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Obesity in the Virgin Islands: A ticking time bomb

Dickson C. Igwe. Photo: VINO/File
Dickson C. Igwe

Too many Virgin Islanders and residents are ignoring their health and well-being. The cost to the taxpayer is astronomical and increasing. Prevention is better than cure.

Now, it is public knowledge the Virgin Islands has a cancer problem. Then there are further problems with heavy use of kidney dialysis machines, and issues of hypertension- not to mention the huge evil of diabetes in the territory.

OK. This Old Boy will make a public confession. He is a fat boy. He has always had a weight problem. He is not ashamed to confess that.

He loves all the “wrong foods” and could “slouch” around all day, if he had the choice. However, when a visit to the doctor went south “life change” was no longer optional: not unless a very short life was on his proverbial wish list.

He pondered deeply after that doctor’s visit. And one of the first things he did was purchase a mountain bike at one of the businesses in the Virgin Islands that deserves a special award for excellent customer service: The Bike Shop at Pasea. Mountain biking was easy to do. He has always loved the Great Outdoors, and he was an avid cyclist as a child.

That was 5 years ago. The rest is history. He has become an enthusiastic biker. Thankfully he has always been a swimmer, and teaches swimming, so he fits in exercise when he teaches his swimming classes. Swimming is excellent cardiovascular exercise.

However, daily cycling, and walking have not left him looking or feeling like Adonis. It has been a painful 5 years. Getting into shape is a mountain climb. But it is certainly worth the effort. He still has a lot of work to do if he is to make the 100 year mark.

Now what inspired this story was his observation at a place he had to visit recently, where a substantial crowd was also present. He realised at this event that over 90% of those present were obese. 50% were severely obese. And being the man he is, he pondered over what he observed.

The present and future generation of Virgin Islanders will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents. This is not alarmist. It is a fact. An assessment of numbers by BVI Health Services may well “bear this out.”

There is ample research that obesity is life shortening. Obesity is “right up there” with smoking as a leading cause of cancer. Obesity also leads to heart disease, diabetes, and chronic illness. Obesity makes the aging process much more complicated and distressful. Sickness at, and over the age of 60, offers a poor quality of life.

Thankfully there is a remedy to the trauma of being obese. For some – the severely obese- the answer is surgery and a complete life change thereafter. For the obese it means lifestyle change.

Another harsh fact: as people age the metabolism slows. Obesity increases with age. The problem gets worse at middle age threatening longevity in a world where medical science and knowledge of what is good for people has made living into the 90s and beyond, a new normal.  

So what is the solution? For Islanders it means ditching the use of the car and walking, unless the use of the car is completely necessary. It means eating a plant based diet, and ditching red meat. That daily walk of 15000 steps will help control obesity, but go further and buy a bicycle and commute to work if that is possible. Learn to swim. Swimming is excellent exercise for the middle aged.

There is hard evidence lifting weights regularly drives a faster metabolism by building muscle mass and reducing BMI- Body Mass Index. Lift weights at the gym.

With Obesity and poor health, wise decisions will place us on a better path to a good health and wellbeing. I look forward to your 90th birthday.

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6 Responses to “Obesity in the Virgin Islands: A ticking time bomb”

  • summer (06/07/2019, 10:41) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    This is really a fact that Obesity and Cancer is prevalent in the Virgin Islands. The answer to these sicknesses is a healthy lifestyle which includes Diet, Exercise and Water. I’m not sure how We can achieve a healthy diet with the Water that is sold around here since most of the Waters are sometimes left in the Sun for hours causing the plastic to heat up and then seeps through the Water which is not healthy to drink.

    Let’s also be mindful and try hard to Exercise at least Three days per Week and watch our intake of Sugar, Starch, Fat and Meat products. By doing these and our Trust in God may help us to live a healthier happy life
  • Anonymous (06/07/2019, 12:29) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Another interesting read
  • E. Leonard (06/07/2019, 20:50) Like (4) Dislike (1) Reply
    Undoubtedly, the prevalence of diabetes and hypertension among residents may be posing serious health risks. The BIG question is what is causing the increased in these chronic diseases? I’m no medical professional but I take a WAG that two of the major causes are diet and exercise. Taking a look back several decades (30, 40, 50, 60s), Virgin Islanders consumed mostly fresh meat, fish, milk, vegetables, organic ground provisions.....etc; residents consumed little to no processed foods. Consumption of canned goods was an occasional thing. Additionally, prior to the prevalence of cars, trucks.......etc residents walk almost every where; they walk to school, to work, to town, to their ground and pasture ......etc; there were hardly any obese residents. Now the common mode of getting from point A to point B is the automobile. Physical exercise is not as common place as it use to be and processed foods are now popular. To arrest and/or reduce obesity, diabetes, hypertension........etc, diet and exercise lifestyle changes must become a national craze.

    Moreover, starting in the mid 60s, the VI has undergone significant economic, social, cultural........etc changes. The VI has progressed a long way from a little sleepy hollow to today having one of the highest standard of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the region. Nonetheless, to capitalize on and enjoy its progress, it must embrace healthy living and lifestyle changes. Again, diet and exercise must become a national craze. A progressing nation= a healthy nation.
    • Disinterested (07/07/2019, 03:12) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
      “Taking a look back several decades (30, 40, 50, 60s), Virgin Islanders consumed mostly fresh meat, fish, milk, vegetables, organic ground provisions.....etc” True. But during this period, the territory had a small population (between 8000-10,000) and was relatively capable of feeding itself. However, since then the population has skyrocketed to approximately 32.000. Consequently, it (territory) has to import most of its food. Further, the territory has adopted the dietary habits of the US and other major countries; unhealthy, addicting fast food is becoming the food of choice, increasing obesity, diabetes and other ill health problems. Furthermore, though the territory should eat healthy, it is expensive to eat healthy; high quality foods may not be affordable for people at the lower end of the economic ladder, requiring them to eat poor quality, high fat.......etc foods. Nevertheless, unhealthy living/eating impose a high cost on the community and the community must band together to effect lifestyle changes to reduce the high cost and improve its health. Unhealthy eating stresses and strains medical services and lower the quality of life.
  • Quiet Rebel (07/07/2019, 09:36) Like (4) Dislike (1) Reply
    Slaves were the workhorses and money makers during slavery and colonialism (well colonialism and neocolonialism are still real) yet they were fed the poorest diet; they were given the scraps, ie, pork rinds, chitterlings, gizzards, heads, feet.....etc, making the best of an untenable situation. The cultural ties to the poor diet and fatty cuisines may be a cause and precursor to these chronic diseases, ie, sugar, high blood pressure, stoppage of water......etc.

    Now there is a food divide among the rich, middle class and the poor. The rich and middle class can afford to eat healthy; they can grab the top shelf stuff (the high quality stuff is at eye level). On the other hand, the poor has to bend/stoop for the high fat, sugary....etc stuff on the bottom shelf (brand name go on top).

    Moreover, obesity regrettably is at an epidemic level in the BVI. Just a few months ago a classmate and I were discussing the obesity issue going back to school days trying to find any obese classmates. We came up empty. Today BVI residents seam to relish being a big and heavy man or woman; it is like a badge of honour. We like to eat. For example, if we go to a restaurant and order a plate ah boil fish, we want it loaded down with fish, butter sauce, dumpling, green banana, sweet potato, rice or fungi plus a large soda. Obesity, sugar, high blood pressure, cancer, stoppage a water......etc are serious health issues and must be taken serious. Whether we are poor, middle class or rich, we must take our health serious by trying to eat healthy and actively exercise.
  • summer (07/07/2019, 14:09) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    While it is true that imported foods play a role in the obesity of the People of the Virgin Island each of us must take responsibility of ourselves. How many of us takes time to exercise and eat properly?

    As it is said in olden times We dig our graves with our own Teeth. In other words We eat too much of the wrong things and do not take care of our bodies

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