The Caribbean Public Health Agency (Carpha) said obesity levels in Caricom countries are the highest worldwide, and alarmingly high in children.

In a release on World Obesity Day, March 4, Carpha said the Caribbean has some of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the Americas “with adults ranging from 18.9 per cent in Antigua and Barbuda to 31.6 per cent in the Bahamas. “Alarmingly, overweight and obesity prevalence levels in children aged five to nine years in Caricom countries are increasing. They are highest in the Bahamas at 39.5 per cent and lowest in Saint Lucia at 26.1 per cent. The prevalence of obesity in Caribbean children is two to three times higher than the world.”

It said, with the obesity epidemic in children and adolescents, the future seen through the risk factor lens for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) looks dismal, as these young people will be the future working generation but living with higher rates of NCDs.

“The covid pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of persons with obesity, and other NCDs. It is not yet clear why there is a link between covid19 and obesity, however an increased susceptibility to respiratory problems, inflammation, and immunological disturbances in people living with obesity may all be contributing factors. Obesity also has a number of NCD co-morbidities such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease which have also been shown to increase risk of severe covid19 outcomes.”

Some of the initiatives spearheaded by Carpha to reduce childhood obesity include the Six-Point Policy Package which sets out priority areas for action on mandatory food labelling, nutritional standards and guidelines for schools, and reduction in the marketing of unhealthy foods, as well as an intervention in schools in Grenada and St Lucia called Reversing the Rise in Childhood Obesity, funded by the World Diabetes Foundation.