JERSEY’s director of public health has called for all islanders to have access to fresh food in a bid to curb the island’s ongoing obesity problem.
Professor Peter Bradley believes that obesity levels outlined in a recent report are having a significant impact on adult health and could put further strain on the healthcare system.
The 2021 Obesity, Diet and Physical Activity Report released by the Government’s Public Health Intelligence Team found that 32% of adult islanders were overweight and 18% were obese.
Professor Bradley said: ‘The figures are not surprising as obesity is a real challenge for us. It has a real impact on our daily health and could put a strain on our healthcare system as there are over 2,000 obesity-related admissions each year.’
Overall, 57% of the people identified as overweight or obese in the report were men.
A total of 9,380 patients were now registered in the Jersey Quality Improvement Framework obesity registry at the end of 2021. More than 1,100 obese islanders also suffered from high blood pressure and/or diabetes.
Professor Bradley said that “a concerted effort involving a range of factors” was needed to tackle the problem, which has been made worse by the rapid rise in the cost of living.
“We know we have a cost of living crisis and when people have less money they tend to buy more processed foods as they are cheaper. Therefore, we must ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have access to fresh food, including fruit and vegetables,” he said.
The report found that just 31% of adults had eaten the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, but Professor Bradley said access to both was not always equal across the island.
“Those who live in rural areas can often buy cheap fruit and vegetables at the roadside at this time of year, [but] those living in built-up areas may not have that opportunity,” he said.
The report also revealed that 42% of people with a high BMI said they would exercise more if they had more free time, while 26% said they would be more active if they had more disposable income.
Professor Bradley said: “We know that work patterns have changed over the years and many people have desk jobs and stare at a screen all day. And we know that a number of overweight or obese people said they didn’t have time to exercise, so maybe there are things employers can do to give their employees time to exercise.”
A report released earlier this year by the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, which assesses physical activity levels and trends in children and adolescents around the world, ranked Jersey 44th out of 47 countries – giving it an F for the general level of physical activity – slipped from grade D in 2018.
However, the government showed improvements in its efforts to support physical activity among children and young people, moving up from a D grade in 2018 to a C grade in 2022.
The Jersey Child Measurement Program also released its 2021/22 figures at the end of the summer, which have been included in the Obesity, Diet and Physical Activity profile.
It found that 25% of children by the ages of four and five were “overweight or obese,” along with 31% of sixth-grade schoolchildren.
However, the figures were a slight improvement on those from 2020/21, which claimed that 30% of children aged four and five and 37% of sixth graders were “overweight or obese”.
According to the program, 44% of sixth graders in urban areas were overweight or obese, compared to 22% in rural areas.
Former Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan said the lack of access to sport and exercise during the summer holidays for lower-income families is contributing to the gap, which also shows students are less likely to be obese if they attended a fee-paying school.
However, Professor Bradley added that considerable effort was being made to tackle the problem of childhood obesity.
“We have launched the school feeding program and there are a number of initiatives in schools to promote healthy eating and regular exercise. Government needs to look at its role in facilitating and promoting healthy habits among adults as well.
“We could start looking at active transport and make sure we encourage more people to cycle and walk because we know it can make a difference,” he said.