The Ministry of Health in Seychelles working with the Ministry of Education has launched an excellent campaign which is titled “Promoting Healthy Weight…A Major Future Investment” which targets obesity in children in Seychelles. But the problem of obesity goes beyond the health sector – obesity actually impedes sustainable development.
Last year in The People newspaper I wrote about our overweight population and suggested that the country adopt a “ fat tax” or what I termed a “samoosa tax”. We are one of the fattest populations on the planet. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 25% of our population is considered obese. The prognosis is not good at all because WHO says that the majority of our population is overweight – a whopping 65%.
Research studies in Seychelles and elsewhere demonstrate that obesity is associated with a high incidence of diabetes Type 2. Generally in most overweight populations the risks of getting some other non-communicable diseases increases are also high and include hypertension, disabling degenerative disease of the joints and some cancers.
As was highlighted last week in the Promoting Healthy Weight campaign, childhood obesity is already a big issue in Seychelles – almost 20% of schoolchildren are obese. Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. Obese children may experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, and psychological effects.
Where does sustainable development come in? Low work productivity has been flagged as a barrier to improving our economy. Overweight workers must be one of the root causes. Research conducted in the US and UK has shown that obese workers have higher rates of absenteeism and take more disability leave, therefore decreasing work productivity as well as increasing costs for employers. But a recent study reveals that obesity’s hidden costs stem from the fact that obese people tend to be less productive than normal-weight people while at work — simply accounting for the sick days they take misses a large part of the picture.
The financial costs of workers’ obesity to companies and to the economy in general must be huge. Health care costs for obese employees in the US are 77% higher than those for employees of healthy weight. But loss of productivity due to obesity can cost a nation as much – up to US$73.1 billion annually among full-time workers in the US.
Scarce resources are being diverted to help people who consciously choose unhealthy lifestyles. I am convinced that our medical system and our economy would be more efficient and better equipped if it did not have to deal with all the consequences of an overweight population. This is not fat-phobia -a study in the UK in 2007, entitled found that unless further action was taken, obesity could financially cripple the UK’s National Health Service! What is the most galling (forgive the bad pun) is that the minority of the Seychelles’ population which has a healthy lifestyle is being penalized as it also has to foot the tax bill for the overweight majority.
Article first appeared in the author’s column in The People 20.4.2012