(CMR) The silent escalating epidemic of obesity is the underlying cause of most deaths in the Caribbean and The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says it's one of the main risk factors for diabetes.
According to the organization, the percentage of adults in the Americas, including the Caribbean, who are obese is more than twice the world average, with more women affected than men. The fear is that if action is not taken to curb our increasingly overweight populations the resultant burden of chronic diseases will overwhelm our health systems and ultimately retard our overall health and economic development.
“Healthy eating and an active lifestyle can help prevent or even reverse obesity, in turn preventing the onset of diabetes or helping to control it,” PAHO said.
It said diabetes is a progressive chronic disease characterized by high blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes – responsible for the majority of cases worldwide, and largely attributable to excessive body weight and physical inactivity – is increasing rapidly throughout the world.
PAHO disclosed that the number of people in the Americas with this disease has tripled since 1980 and 62 million adults in the Americas were living with type 2 diabetes and about 305,000 died from the disease in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.
Diabetes, a major contributor to premature death, is estimated to affect 10-15% of the adult population in the Caribbean Region. The disease is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke and responsible for high rates of complications, such as lower limb amputation.
“Unless measures are taken to address the problem, it is estimated that, by 2040, there will be over 100 million adults with diabetes, with adverse effects on quality of life that include heart attack, stroke, blindness, renal failure and amputation of lower limbs,”
In many countries, it said women are disproportionately affected by obesity.
Obesity is the strongest modifiable risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes in the Caribbean.
Accordingly, “Women and Diabetes – Our Right to a Healthy Future” was the theme of World Diabetes Day 2017, on November 14 promoted by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).
In the Americas, PAHO said noncommunicable diseases – principally cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases – are responsible for approximately 80 percent of all deaths, 35 percent of which are premature deaths in people between the ages of 30 and 70.
Given the magnitude of the problem, PAHO said the world's countries made a commitment to a one-third reduction in their premature mortality rates by 2030, and to working to combat the principal risk factors: Tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.
PAHO said the advance of diabetes can be halted by a combination of fiscal policies, legislation, environmental changes and increased awareness among the population – “all of which can reduce the disease's risk factors, which include obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.”
Examples of these interventions include taxes on sugary beverages, prohibitions on the advertising of highly processed foods to children, front-of-package food labeling, and the promotion of safe and accessible recreational spaces to encourage active living.
PAHO said it supports the countries of the Caribbean in their efforts to minimize the impact of diabetes and reduce premature mortality from the disease, as part of the Global Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020.
Accordingly, it said that it helps Caribbean countries acquire affordable drugs to treat diabetes, “thus reducing the costs associated with treating this chronic disease.”