Understanding Obesity in Jamaica

March 4 is World Obesity Day and all across the world, the day has been dedicated to understanding and trying to find solutions for obesity which is complex and often stigmatized.

So to help shed some light on obesity in Jamaica and what can be done to manage and overcome it, Jamaica Moves asked Dietitian for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Beverley Anthony, to answer some key questions.

What is Obesity?

A person is considered obese or has obesity when they have too much body fat or more specifically, being 20% heavier than you should be for your height. The Body Mass Index, BMI is usually used to determine if someone is obese; it is an indicator of the amount of fat that someone has. The person's weight and height are measured in order to calculate the BMI.

How many people in Jamaica are obese?

The Global School Health Survey, 2017 indicated that 65% of children 13-17 years were overweight and 26% were considered obese. The Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey 2016-2017 indicated that 1 in 2 or 54% of Jamaicans were pre-obese or obese.

Why should we concerned about obesity?

Someone who is Obese is at risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, certain types of cancers and high cholesterol. All of these are serious, potentially life-threatening diseases.

What are some best practices to manage obesity?

Eating healthy, balanced meals is important.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables

  • Reduce consumption of fatty foods

  • Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking and eating it

  • Reduce consumption of fried foods

  • Reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages

  • Reduce consumption of salty food

  • Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast

  • Keep hydrated; drink a lot of water

  • Reduce energy (calories) intake.

  • Eat slowly and enjoy your meals

Physical activity and exercise is also important.

  • According to Ms. Anthony, exercising 30-45 minutes per day, 3-5 days per week is a good start to managing obesity.

  • Exercise should be appropriate and manageable. Walking is recommended for obese people and the intensity of the exercise should increase gradually as the person manages their weight.

Regular Check-ups are necessary as well.

Everyone should visit a doctor or health centre to get regular health checks. And for obese people who will undergo changes in their diet and overall lifestyle in order to lose weight, it is very important that they get a health check before-hand.

A health check is also recommended before starting any new exercise or diet regime. A doctor who knows someone's health history can better inform how best to manage their weight and obesity.

Treating obesity in children

For children, the focus is on them growing healthy - growing into their weight rather than encouraging weight loss. Children with obesity, and their parents, are encouraged to eat healthy and get age appropriate exercise.

Other tips:

  • Eat when you are hungry

  • Walking is a great form of exercise

  • Sleep is important

  • Try to read food labels to help track energy intake

  • Make healthy food swaps; bake and stew instead of frying

  • Eat a balanced meal with foods from all food groups

  • Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is considered healthy weight loss

"Losing weight is not a short term or on and off adventure. And that is why some persons are not successful. It is something you have to work at, in order for it to be successful."

- Beverley Anthony, SERHA Dietitian

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