Barbados is experiencing the effects of a “tidal wave” of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which is threatening to have an even more devastating impact in the future unless decisive action is taken.
Using this terrifying type of natural disaster to emphasize the nature of the health crisis, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a charitable organization battling killer cardiovascular diseases, issued a grim warning to Barbadians: Either take the issue seriously or face the grim possibility of entire families being “taken out” as preliminary data points to rising deaths from cardiovascular diseases over the coming years.
Following a spate of sudden deaths over the past month, including persons who collapsed and died from undisclosed causes, the Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Gina Pitts, told Barbados TODAY she did not foresee the young generation living nearly as long as “our elderly”.
Pitts attributed the longevity of elderly Barbadians to three things – a deep spirituality, high mobility and eating what they grew. Noting that 80 per cent of NCDs could be avoided, she contended that fast foods need to be more heavily taxed and reduced taxes placed on healthy foods or greater incentives offered to encourage healthy eating.
She provided figures from the Barbados National Registry showing that for the first quarter of this year, there were 39 strokes and 23 heart attacks. Eight per cent of the stroke patients died and 11 per cent of those who came down with heart attacks did not make it.
The data showed that slightly more than half of the stroke events (21 or 53 per cent) occurred in men. The mean age for men was 63 years while it was 67 years for women. More than half (56 per cent) of the heart attack patients were also male. The mean age for men was 62 years and 70 for women.
During the same period in 2015, 38 per cent of stroke victims passed away, while 45 per cent of heart attack patients died. Altogether, there were 45 strokes and 31 heart attacks.
Slightly more than half of the stroke events (25 or 55 per cent) occurred in men. The mean age for men was 70 years and 28 years for women. Of the 31 heart events, 19 or 60 per cent occurred in men. The mean age for women was 72 years and 66 years for men.
Pitts cautioned, however, that these figures did not include “death certificate only” cases from the national death register. Such information would not become available for 2016 until mid-2017.
Therefore, she pointed out, the final overall number of strokes and heart attacks was expected to be higher.
“Potentially we have a sector of the community who are living longer, but the youngsters are not going to be able to live longer,” Pitts observed.
“We have to look to 20, 30 years in advance and say what is Barbados going to look like in 20 to 30 years and we should be planning for that now.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation CEO said that 70 years or so ago, there was no mention of fast foods and gyms did not exist. She said people walked, ate from the ground, took health seriously and sought to deal with illness immediately through such means as herbal medicines or the family doctor.
“If we sit back and do nothing, it could only get worse. We have to review the sedentary lifestyles of every individual,” she added.
Pitts is suggesting that it should be made mandatory for children to eat nutritional foods, including school meals, and that there should be a national screening programme for NCDs and a national exercise programme.