LACK of exercise, a sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits — these three are considered the trinity of an unhealthy lifestyle. And it’s costing this country dearly, doctors say. In an article published in the Express on January 13, Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan commented that too many persons are engaging in unhealthy lifestyles — resulting in an increase in hospital admissions which in turn exacerbates the bed shortage in our nation’s hospitals. Unhealthy lifestyles take a toll on our bodies and on the health care system which has seen an increase in cases of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. President of the Academy of Diabetes Clinicians of Trinidad and Tobago and community diabetologist at the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA), Dr Claude Khan said that unhealthy lifestyles are chronic in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It is a major problem. Between 13-15 per cent of our population have diabetes, this puts us at around number ten in the world in terms of the prevalence of diabetes, we are number one in the Western world and number ten overall. That compares to about seven to eight per cent of the US population, in the UK it’s about three per cent. This diabetes is driven by obesity,” he said.
In addition, coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in Trinidad. It goes hand in hand with diabetes, said Khan. Both these problems are driven by obesity which is linked to an unhealthy lifestyle, he added. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report recently indicated that this country ranks sixth in the world for obesity with 30 per cent of our population obese.
“Our teeth are digging our graves,”said gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Sherene Kalloo.
“The fast foods, the fried chicken, the roti, doubles and the oil down are nice to the palate but detrimental to our hearts. Maintaining a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25 has shown to decrease hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.”
In addition to improper dietary patterns, sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise, Kalloo said smoking and drinking, poor sleep hygeine, risk-taking behaviour and poor stress control all contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.
“We need at least seven hours of sleep per night. Sleep is what revitalises us. It affects our tolerance levels and makes us calmer. We all need to go through various stages of sleep to be well rested. Lack of sleep interferes with our coordination and driving. It seems a norm that many young people are spending time at nights on the Internet and phones instead of sleeping and they need to be told that lack of sleep also affects memory, the heart and causes elevated anxiety levels,” said Kalloo.
Khan acknowledged the attempts by the Ministry of Health to create awareness of unhealthy lifestyles but he stressed that government needs to pour more resources into preventative medicine.
“I’m a big, big proponent of preventative medicine. It’s always attractive to have a hospital with a CT scanner or a MRI scanner but by the time people reach our hospitals their illnesses are firmly entrenched and what we should be trying to do is prevent these illnesses. Put more money into preventative medicine so that we could tackle this from a primary school or a secondary school level,” he said.
Khan said persons must also break the cycle of unhealthy eating patterns.
“If you compare how we eat in Trinidad to a European menu, you’d notice as Trinis our plates are filled with carbohydrates. The fast food fad in T&T is mirroring the American lifestyle, we’re eating more and more fast food and doing less home cooking. We have high sugar content in a lot of the drinks we’re consuming and also our diets are very carbohydrate based — rice, roti and flour and it’s carbohydrates and fatty foods that make people put on weight,” he said.
Since children learn eating habits from their parents, Khan advises family heads to instil healthy eating patterns in their children and encourage exercise.
“There is such an emphasis on academia but not enough emphasis on exercise. We need to get our kids at least doing some form of exercise — walking or playing a sport. And as adults the recommendation from most diabetes associations is between 30-40 mintutes of aerobic-type exercises about four times a week,”said Khan.
Next, the Express speaks with doctors, dieticians and trainers on ways to snap out of an unhealthy lifestyle and the short term/long term benefits of doing so.