BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Caribbean women have higher obesity rates and a high risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), according to studies conducted by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Being obese, places an individual at a high risk for developing NCDs, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, later in life. Non-communicable diseases and childhood obesity are priority health and economic issues for health officials worldwide.

“Studies have revealed that women in the Caribbean have higher rates of obesity in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI) compared to men. They also have higher rates of abdominal obesity and are likely to be 3 times more obese than men,” said Dr. Virginia Asin-Oostburg, Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Director for Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control in observance of the Oct. 11 World Obesity Day.

Obesity is a serious, chronic disease that can have a negative effect on our health. In a recent report, PAHO and FAO stated, “obesity and overweight are on the rise throughout the Caribbean and Latin America and are particularly prevalent among women and children.

Realising that a whole of society approach is necessary to reduce the burden of obesity and diet-related NCDs, CARPHA continues to support its member states and other regional organizations in their efforts to minimize the impact of obesity in the Caribbean.

Several initiatives are being spearheaded by CARPHA to address overweight and obesity in the Region. These include improving food and nutrition surveillance systems, and the implementation of activities associated with its Childhood Obesity Action Plan.

Dr Oostburg further stated “We recently unveiled our 6-point policy package for healthier food environments during a CARICOM event at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). This initiative, which is aligned with the World Health Organization (WHO) targets for NCDs, includes mandatory food labelling, nutritional standards and guidelines for schools, and reduction in the marketing of unhealthy foods.”

The theme for World Obesity Day 2018 was “End Weight Stigma”. On Oct. 11, CARPHA joined its member States and the rest of the world to raise awareness about this chronic disease, and the diseases associated with it. The lack of knowledge and awareness of weight stigma can have a negative effect on individuals and lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and suicide, thus undermining overall health.

In this regard, CARPHA urged governments, community leaders, healthcare professionals and individuals to work together to create an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle. CARPHA encourages persons to follow a healthy eating plan, increase their physical activity by exercising daily, even if it’s moderately, monitor weight regularly and lastly, be consistent. Following these measures would go a long way in reducing the rate of obesity in the Caribbean.

Focusing on weight stigma

This year, World Obesity Day, focused on weight stigma, one of the last socially accepted forms of discrimination.
There is consistent evidence of weight discrimination at every stage of employment including; career counselling, interviews and hiring processes, salary disparities, fewer promotions, harsher disciplinary actions and more dismissals.

Furthermore, the school environment is renowned for teasing, bullying and weight are the primary reasons for victimisation.

Greater awareness of the multiple sources of weight stigma provides a greater understanding of how to avoid it.

It is recommended that all places of work:
• Implement policies that protect employees; employers; students and clients with respect irrespective of their weight.
• Take steps to raise awareness about and prevent weight discrimination.

Reducing the risk of obesity requires governments to take an integrated approach across different sectors, which should incorporate:
• Implementation of policies which address obesogenic food environments, improving the availability and access to nutritious food and reducing exposure to marketing of less healthy options.
• Introduction of policies and town planning protocols which improve urban environments, ensuring they are walkable, have green space and are conducive to more activity as part of people’s daily lives.
• Consideration of health in all policies, to ensure action is taken in all relevant sectors from health, to education, to media and culture, to development and social services.

Health care providers to acknowledge the environmental factors that cause obesity, which will improve support and efficacy during diagnosis and treatment.

A positive, supportive narrative between clinicians and their patients will increase the effectiveness of care. The following steps will help ensure HCPs are providing the best, non-stigmatising care to their patients:
• Research has shown that language such as ‘high BMI’ and ‘weight’ are preferred to words like ‘obese’ and ‘morbidly obese’. In addition, it has been recommended that asking your patient which terms they prefer is an effective option.
• People-first language that puts the patient before the medical condition and avoids categorising patients by their medical condition. For example, ‘you have obesity’ as opposed to ‘you are obese’
• Patients with obesity should be treated with the same level of respect and empathy as their slimmer counterparts.