With approximately 70 per cent of Barbadian women classified as obese and 60 per cent of men also falling into this category, Senior Medical Officer of Health with responsibility for Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases, Dr. Kenneth George, is urging everyone to come out on Saturday, April 7 – World Health Day – to take part in Exercise in the City.
Dr. George, a member of the Ministry of Health’s National Task Force on Physical Activity and Exercise, organisers of the event, said obesity was associated with all of the chronic diseases from heart disease to strokes, to diabetes, cancer and hypertension.
He explained that the findings of a Risk Factor Survey a few years ago, revealed that 50 per cent of Barbadians engaged in low levels of physical activity. And, in that group, women were almost twice as likely as men to report low levels of exercise.
"Exercise is a good way to lose weight. We have a problem of weight with women, and we have a nation that is very obese, so we need to get them moving. We want to encourage individuals and groups to improve their levels of physical activity.
On the individual level, we are working on some guidelines related to physical activity which should be available soon. And, at the community level, we have been working with leaders, and we have reached out to the constituency councils to try to advance the process of exercise.
"Because exercise is simple, it is inexpensive and it is fun. But, at the end of the day, the benefits are tremendous- not only the health benefits, but there are other advantages, in that it makes you feel better as a person. It improves productivity at work; people are able to concentrate for longer periods of time and you feel more energetic. I think that is the main reason why people like to exercise; you feel like a better person," he explained.
Dr. George outlined some of the medical benefits of exercise. These include a decline in blood pressure, better blood sugar control and greater mobility for older persons since it improves joint flexibility and muscle tone.
He also pointed out that the Ministry of Health was in the process of conducting a Health of the Nation Study – the first one of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean which "will objectively measure exercise".
Presently, there is limited data in this area and Dr. George believes it will shed some much needed light on the reality of the Barbados situation.
"How we are going to do it, is by measuring calories burned and individuals’ heart rates. This test is not going to ask for self-reported physical activity as was done in the past," he disclosed.
Barbadians looking to change the current figures on obesity are invited to join the Ministry of Health and the National Task Force on Physical Activity and Exercise in Independence Square, The City, at 6:00 a.m. Indeed, the entire nation is being encouraged to get moving.