So you think you are healthy?
Diagnosis: “We are more unhealthy then past generations.”
Tim (not his real name) a long time vendor on Swan Street declares he’s healthy because of regular checks with his doctor.
His friend Paul who is standing next to him inviting busy shoppers to purchase from his offerings of apples, oranges, grapes and tangerines smiles broadly and suggests he’s good in shape since he stays away from chicken, pork and processed foods, opting for a diet which mainly consists of fruits and vegetables.
But what does it mean to be healthy? Is it a number on a scale, a blood pressure score, a jean’s size, a body free of disease?
The responses from Tim and Paul suggest health means different things to different people.
Dr Colin Alert, who’s been practising medicine for more than three decades endorses the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of health.
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”
“It’s not just how you feel but how you relate to other people, as well as how you relate to your higher power, your church, how you fit into your community. . . . then you ask questions like do you exercise regularly, what is your diet like, are you sleeping well, what’s happening in your relationships and so on.”
But he goes a step farther to suggest that in the Barbadian context, determining health includes screening for chronic diseases: diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and the like.
He warns the data shows that we are more unhealthy when compared to past generations.
“We are heavily battered by the chronic diseases which affect large numbers of our population to the point where they are the leading causes of death, they are the leading causes of people ending up in hospital, they are the leading causes of sick leave but they are preventable and it’s distressing.”
But if that’s not enough. Dr Alert says we are slowly killing ourselves by our own choices.
“We’ve become lazy and we eat too much, we’ve become lickerish and these are primarily the reasons when compared to generation past we are unhealthy as we are.”
“Your grandmother probably never ate fast foods which by and large are salty, greasy, high in fat, high in sugar. They never drank so many soft drinks and they probably exercised a lot more. If your grandmother went to the market on a Saturday she probably walked to town and back while we drive cars.”
Dr Alert raised concern that the problem of chronic diseases is being treated far too lightly. In fact, he revealed that even at the point of diagnosis many Barbadians are not making the right changes.
He’s even more worried that the unhealthy practices of adults are being passed down to children.
“We certainly have research here in the secondary schools and primary schools which show that our kids are obese; so even at this point we are a little behind the ball game but we have to get to them to limit their access to fast foods, we have to encourage them to exercise more before they develop the illnesses.”
Overall, Dr Alert believes Barbadians must take action now to turn around what he calls an “epidemic of unhealthy living” warning that it is far more costly than doing the right things.
“If you get unhealthy consider the doctor bills, the hospital bills, the time lost from work, the time lost from school. . .the cost of being unhealthy is tremendously large.”
He however stressed the focus must be on prevention as he challenged doctors to step out of their offices.
“We need to get into the schools, we need to get out to the playing fields, we need to get out to the beaches and encourage more people to be healthy, so it’s not just a matter of waiting for people to come to us we need to go to them.”
Dr Alert was also quick to add that this must be coupled with a united effort at the level of individuals, families and communities.
“It’s potentially reversible. . . . maybe as a church group you can get together and make a little garden and plant vegetables since you are saying vegetables are expensive in the supermarket. As a community you can exerciseso there needs to be coming together towards doing the healthy things,” he said.