Childhood obesity rates in the Caribbean have surpassed the global rate for the disease, a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) official has told experts meeting here to combat an apparent epidemic.
In a decade, the obesity rate among children increased from six per cent to 14 per cent, according to PAHO. On its current trajectory by 2030, half of the region’s children will be overweight and or obese.
“PAHO proclaims childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st Century. Even so our childhood obesity in the Caribbean is even higher than the global average and are increasing rapidly. Thus, providing a weighty challenge to our region,” said PAHO’s Country Programme Specialist Dr Patrice Lawrence-Williams.
“Currently 30 to 40 percent of our children are overweight or obese and at the current rate it is projected by 2030 this will increase to 50 percent,” she said, adding that she hopes that by the end of the next two generations the term childhood obesity will become “foreign”.
“It is my vision that two generations from now the PAHO advisor in Barbados and The Eastern Caribbean will be standing in front of your grandchildren and saying that childhood obesity is a foreign terminology,” she said.
Lawrence-Williams was delivering her address at the Childhood Obesity Prevention Campaign Conference, organized by the Heart and Stroke Foundation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Tuesday.
Experts are meeting to curb the worrying trend of childhood obesity in children in the Caribbean and establish partnerships to encourage stakeholders to develop a cohesive battle plan against the epidemic.
Evidence suggests that the earlier a child becomes overweight or obese increases their chances of remaining overweight or obese as they mature into adults, said renowned paediatrician Professor Margaret Anne St John, director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“There is good evidence to show that the earlier a child becomes overweight or obese the greater the risk of remaining overweight or obese when they become older. Obese child, obese adult. They are statistics to show that if a child is born to an obese parent the child has a 90 per cent chance of being obese and if two parents are obese they have a 80 per cent chance of obesity,” she said.
St John also blamed doctors for letting cases of obesity go unnoticed when patients seek medical attention.
“I also blame my colleagues in medicine. You may know that someone comes to the doctor; they come for a cold, a cough, something of that nature and I would swear if I did a survey, maybe less than 10 per cent of doctors point out the obesity and overweight of the persons. It is just going unnoticed or unobserving,” she said.
The Director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation also said that a review should be carried out on the School Meals Service in Barbados to determine if the school feeding programme’s diet was actually aiding in the rise of juvenile obesity.
“A total need for the school meals system in Barbados to review their plan repeatedly is the school meals programme for the younger students. The content portion served and to make sure they are not contributing to the development of overweight and obesity in children,” St John said.