With life expectancies varying from 65 to 75, the Caribbean plans to confront its living habits head on after reports show the region to have the highest mortality rates due to noncommunicable diseases in the Americas.
The report states that more than 4 percent of NCD deaths occur among Caribbean people under 70 years, with 82 percent of these appearing in low and middle-income countries. The four most prominent types of NCD illnesses are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and respiratory diseases.
During the last day of Caricom’s 38th Summit, the Caribbean community attributed the NCD epidemic to poor lifestyles and bad dieting habits, which, with the possible increase of taxes on tobacco, sugary products and unhealthy food, could be curbed and reversed for future generations.
“All countries in the Caribbean have gained life,” said Dr. Alafia Samuels, director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Center, of the increased life expectancy seen in the tropical region.
“But some have gained a lot more,” she continued. “The countries that have gained the most life over the past 40 years would be like Martinique and Guadeloupe- both of which have increased their life expectancy by 15 years. Haiti also increased by 15 years.”
However, two Caribbean nations still lag behind, with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago only tacking on an extra five years to their average life expectancies.
“We simply cannot afford to continue the lifestyle and food consumption patterns which are literally killing us,” said Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, stating that one of the most alarming sections of the report was the high rate of childhood obesity, a major risk factor of NCD’s.
Samuels echoed this statement, adding that lack of exercise, heavy smoking and frequent drinking habits only aggravate the situation.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness spoke at Caricom’s closing press conference, addressing the country’s increasing efforts to combat NCD’s. He mentioned the country’s interest in increasing taxes on tobacco and sugary products, although no decision has been announced as of yet. The prime minister also revealed a proposal for an exercise program called “Jamaica Move” which promotes active lifestyles.
However, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Caricom’s secretary general, reiterated that the government can only do so much.
“We can put our rules and regulations, we can put our tobacco labeling we can enforce taxes on sweets and so on, but every one of us has a responsibility for our lives as well.”
Grenada’s Health Minister Nicolas Steele agreed with the ambassador, saying the mere taxation of unhealthy products will not necessarily guarantee a decrease in purchase.
Some of the most common consequences of poor lifestyles and eating habits are diabetes, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease, stroke and heart disease among others.
According to the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, tobacco causes approximately six million deaths in the Caribbean each year, 3.2 million annual deaths are due to insufficient physical activity, 1.7 million are attributed to sodium and salt overdose, while over half of 3 million deaths result from alcoholism.