“People are knowingly eating themselves to death, literally, causing huge challenges and tragedies for their families, bankrupting both families and government,” Sir Henry Fraser declared last night.
The retired Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus said this Barbadian gorging habit has, over the years, developed into a scourge.
“The fundamental problem facing us is the massive epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases,” he said while delivering a lecture on health care in Barbados, in the UWI lecture theatre named after him.
Sir Henry said Barbadians have now “achieved the distinction of [having] some of the highest figures in the world for obesity and chronic diseases”.
“Two thirds of women are overweight or obese . . . . One third of men are overweight or obese,” he said. “Men remain active and slim far longer than women, who are fatter at a younger and younger age.”
The Professor said that, as a consequence, “20 per cent of all adults have high blood pressure and half of those are over 45. By age 60, it’s 60 per cent. And one in five adults over 45 has diabetes, all heading for strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure”.
Sir Henry told the almost full lecture theatre that these “frightening” figures were compounded by the equally frightening cost of resulting medical care, equating to two-thirds of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s budget and two-thirds of the Barbados Drug Service budget.
“Dialysis for kidney failure, due to the combination of diabetes and hypertension, costs more than $35 000 per patient, per year. We dialyze over 200 patients – that’s $8 million a year, the health care costs of 6 000 other patients.”
He said the huge economic impact of chronic disease was felt not just in the country’s budget, “but on individuals and families, sometimes destroying families who just can’t cope with a hugely obese patient with an amputation or a stroke”.
Following his summation of Barbados’ enormous burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) brought on by unhealthy lifestyles, Sir Henry recalled late prime minister David Thompson warning eight years ago that “if left to chance, all the gains achieved in the Caribbean during the march from poverty to relative affluence since Independence can be wiped out by the NCDs”.
The doctor said Barbadians must continue striving for good health for as many as possible, through prevention.
He then outlined his five predictors of good health: regular physical activity, healthy eating, avoidance of smoking, avoidance of alcohol abuse, and avoidance of stress.
Although noting that genetic factors could not be avoided, he added: “We must work with what we’re given.”
Another health predictor identified by Sir Henry was “clean, safe, decent housing with a water supply”, which he said was an absolute necessity.