The man who warned that the Caribbean region, led by Jamaica, is the amputation capital of the world, is urging Jamaicans to fight back against the alarming rates of obesity here, especially among women, as they feast this Christmas season.
Professor Dalip Ragoobirsingh, director of the Diabetes Education Programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, has also sought to debunk some cultural beliefs that have helped to encourage obesity in women, including that fat women are more attractive.
Dubbed ‘Dr Diabetes’, because of his devotion to the fight to reduce the debilitating disease that has led to the high rates of amputation, Dr Ragoobirsingh is just back from sharing his reflections at the International Diabetes Federation Congress held in South Korea, and a fact-finding mission to China.
He discloses that the most recent data show that one quarter of the adult Jamaican population is overweight or obese, with females in the ascendancy when compared to their male counterparts. One-third of adolescents are overweight, again with girls worse off than boys.
“This is comparable with the prevalence and gender distribution reported in the region as well as in the USA and UK,” he said.
Professor Ragoobirsingh notes that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes mellitus, which is the leading cause of blindness here, is responsible for diabetic nerve problem and is a risk factor for hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
“One of the common metabolic problems in obese people is high fats in the blood; when the blood fat reaches a certain critical level it begins to bruise the vessels of higher blood pressure which will include those that feed the head, those that feed the heart, and those that feed the kidney,” he says.
Warning that the main problem is diet, both in terms of quantity and quality, he suggests that “our caloric intake is more often than not in excess of our bodily requirement and the excess is always laid down as fat”.
The dietary excesses are exacerbated by some Caribbean folklore beliefs which include overweight being traditionally viewed as healthy; fat women considered to be more attractive and fat being seen as a sign of prosperity.
“This, of course, makes us our own worst enemies,” Dr Ragoobirsingh argues.
“Regardless of the cause of obesity, it has to be managed aggressively. The cardinal line of recourse is lifestyle modifications, such as: sensible dietary habits; regular aerobic exercises (30 minutes continuously at least 4 days per week and reduced alcohol intake.
“It is prudent to consult your health care provider for guidance when embarking on these weight-reducing strategies, especially if you are grossly obese,” he advised.