The Public Speaks Out on Good Health and NCDs

Last December (2016), the Public Relations Department within the Ministry of Health and the Environment took to the streets of St. John’s to get the views of the public about their understanding of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) and the impact on their health in general and what they think can be done to reduce obesity and other dietary- related diseases in Antigua and Barbuda.

The views of those we spoke with were varied and they comprised nearly all age groups.

The feedback indicated that they all seem to have a fairly good grip on what they think people are doing wrong and how it can be remedied.

We were also happy to know that the youths are paying attention, to the physical and psychological effects of poor eating habits, though they have been flagged many times for choosing what is referred to as ‘junk’ food over a healthy, nutritious meal with foods from the Food-Based Dietary guidelines of Antigua and Barbuda.

We asked a number of people why they think Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) seem to be plaguing more members of the population and many at a younger age.

One young man, who was perched on his bike waiting at the side of the road, was pleased to speak with us although he did not want to go on camera.

“What I think and what it is…It’s the menu, well the fast food that’s out there right now…as you can see, plenty restaurants are there right now and the only thing I have to say is everybody just moving to the upgrade system, everybody just want everything fast, telling some people to go home and cook nowadays, It’s like telling them to go crazy.”

“A just fast food a run things right now.”

The young man said that although he works at a hotel where a wide variety of food is being offered for the entire day, he chose to pick the healthiest food to eat.

“You see me now; I grow up with my grandmother and am accustomed to my old-time food and them like fungi, cassava, salt fish, spinach, oatmeal and my corn meal porridge. Those did well for me as a young man. But nowadays, the models and lifestyle so upgraded right now that a just fast food a run things right now,” he said.

He concluded, “how you eating is a very big topic with your health, because it was just the other day I was telling some friends, if we don’t watch what we eat, we go travel with plenty a sickness, high cholesterol and so.”

A young lady who was standing nearby was quick to share her views on why she thinks so many people are getting NDCs at a much younger age than previously.

“It’s the things that we are eating, the things that are not right for our bodies. I think we should start eating healthy, like vegetables and so on and keep off the canned stuff and eat more fruits, drink more water and exercise to keep the body fit.” I, however, think that some of the people may need a little more encouragement to get them to do better- like having more people spreading the word and showing them what can happen if they continue to live unhealthy lifestyles and how to avoid these NCD’s that are so frequent these days,” the young woman declared.

“Drink lots of water, get your sunlight, exercise, eat right and trust in God.”

I moved across to two young men sitting nearby to ask their take on why people are being affected by NCD’s at a younger age. The response from one of them put the guilty trip squarely on many of us especially since the survey was conducted during the Christmas season, the most celebratory time of the year.

“They eating too much meat, they are not exercising and the body needs to detox. We are a meat culture, but if we go back to the natural diet, it would be better for us. When God created the earth, it was on herb and vegetables, now we eating so much chicken pumped up to meet the market demands.”

He added, “I am saying to you that if we go back to our natural diet which consists of nuts and grains and vegetables, we will live a longer life.” Everything is there in the Bible on what we should eat and what we should not eat and if you go to the Leviticus, Chapter 11, it tells you what you should and should not eat.”

He appealed for a new start in 2017. “Drink lots of water, get your sunlight, exercise, eat right and trust in God.” The key is trusting in God and eat what he tells you to eat and keep away from the ham, pork and the turkey.”

Although his buddy was not so bold with his comments, he believes moderation is the key.

“I think it’s the amount that you eat, I think if you just minimize your portions and the time that you eat and exercise some more, it would make a big difference.”

He also thinks that parents need to play a greater role and control the sugary and salty foods that their children consume. “Just check the lunch kits that many of them take to school, lots of salts and sugar, they need to cut back and make better choices.”

“Too much junk food, fried foods, salty food, too much sugar.”

I also ran into a few Custom Officers and one willing talker said that she believes Antiguans love too much bread, rice, sodas and sugars and they need to step up on their exercise routine and not just around carnival time.

An eager passerby I met across the street in the vicinity of Heritage Quay admits he is not perfect but shared what he considers to be a working formula.

“Change your diet- less salt and sugars and fat, exercise every day, get good sleep at least seven (7) hours a day and drink lots of water.”

He was asked why he thinks the majority of people are not doing the above.

“Lackadaisical, laziness. I think it’s laziness, we can do better but many of us are just lazy. It also has to do with hectic lifestyles…some of us leave one work and go to the next and we can’t find the time to exercise because when we reach home, we tired and get some sleep and as soon as you get up it’s time to go back to work again.”

He said it is because of poor eating habits why younger people are obese and are plagued with diabetes and hypertension.

“Too much junk food, fried foods, salty food, too much sugar…we need to go back to local eating - the greens, local provisions and these things.”

He said his goal for 2017 is to exercise more.

“I’ve been walking but it’s not working so maybe I’ll join a gym and work harder and change my eating habits.”

His female colleague, who was walking with him, mentioned that serious efforts and monitoring need to be done with school vendors as many parents find it easier to give their children money to buy what they want instead of preparing their meals.

“Just an observation; check the stalls and trays around the schools and see what they sell to these students. It starts very early, all these chips, sweets, sodas, corn curls. We as parents give the kids money to buy them, so I think the Ministry of Health has to work to re-educate the vendors and help them to offer better options for students, so sensitizing vendors is very important, because we are what we eat.”

However, the young lady was happy to hear that this is on the cards for action by the Wellness Department in the Ministry for 2017.

“When I was going to school, I never hear school children having sugar and high blood pressure, but we hearing it now.”

Another interesting spot talk came from another young woman who right away pointed to healthier eating, drinking more water, a steady exercise routine and more home cooking as ways that could help beat obesity and NCD’s.

The taxi guys who congregate in front of Heritage Quay were also concerned about healthy living and one of them had this to say.

“Start eating healthier, you know, like a lot of vegetables instead of chips and corn curls. Start using the fruits from your back yard and make juices. I also think the school vendors are a big part of the problem. I also believe that the parents have to give the children better options and let them know that certain things are not good for them. When I was going to school, I never hear school children having sugar and high blood pressure but we are hearing it now. I’m surprised to know that. We used to eat a lot of fruits back then to make juice although sodas were there. The teachers can also talk to the kids about these things.”

Another young woman who made some strong points but not on camera shared, “well first and foremost, I don’t think it’s going to be easy for Antigua as a small nation to really make a large impact on that because it comes from the food, the food they are making because of the overpopulation of the world. They are making a lot of genetically engineered food and that can affect us a lot, so whereas before time, you would only find older persons in their 60’s and 70’s with these diseases, you are now finding a lot of youth coming down with these diseases…juveniles and people in their early 20’s and 30’s. So it’s really hard.”

“If parents can push to use more local foods in their kitchens, then the children would have the appetite for that type of food and then the vendors will be pushed to do the same.”

However, she thinks it would be a good thing to push agriculture so that we can have our own locally grown foods and that would help to contribute to the reduction of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

She also had a message for parents.

“If parents can push to use more local foods in their kitchens, then the children would have the appetite for that type of food and then the vendors will be pushed to do the same because when the children go to school, they won’t be looking for fried foods or the type of food that is not good for them because they are accustomed to one thing. So you are going to be forcing the market at the schools and even other persons to produce what people want and there is where you may find the impact and the change, it will not happen overnight, but it’s a start if the whole nation works together.”

“Not too much greasy food, eat a lot of vegetables and drink a lot of water. I don’t think a lot of us in Antigua drink enough water” another passerby quickly added.

It’s customary that as the year closes, many people tend to make ‘New Year Resolutions’ regarding many important things in life such as finance, travel, relationships and more so their health.

But many who we spoke to around the city of St. John’s shied away from making any resolution whatsoever but were quick to recognize the importance of living healthier in 2017.

How many of us are up to the task and say hey “I am doing it right from now on?” Volunteers anyone? We are now in the third month of 2017 and we hope most of you have started to cultivate a healthier lifestyle.

Cheers to better health in 2017 and beyond

Debbie Francis,
Public Relations Department,
Ministry of Health & The Environment

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