In the past ten years or so, Jamaica has seen a phenomenal growth in fast food franchises. Burger King, KFC, Popeye's and Wendy's all have outlets, island wide. McDonalds is the only one that has closed in recent times and a slew of local franchises have opened up their doors.
Longer working hours with little time for rest and relaxation have added to the success that these fast food outlets enjoy.
Young professionals now survive on fast-food breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner because realistically, who has time to cook after an exhausting day at the office?
As the fast-food chains are growing, so too are our health problems. On a steady diet of carbohydrate, fat and protein, with little else in between, many of us are developing chronic diseases.
Jamaicans tend to cook with large amounts of oil that turn into great quantities or rich gravy, which I am sure, turns into sludge once it hits our insides.
I remember some time ago being in the delivery are of a hotel where I was part of a team running an international tournament. There, I met a gentleman who was responsible for clearing the pipes and drains leading from the kitchen.
I don't remember how the subject came up, but we started talking about the stuff that turned up in the drains. He told me that he was a strict vegetarian and that was as a result of seeing all the slush from the oils and fats that are used as part of the food preparation process. He asked me to imagine that sludge piling up in my body, based on my food intake, just as it did in the pipelines. That was years ago and the impact of that conversation has stayed with me all this time.
Jamaica, a tiny country compared to most, has one of the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world. We are also seeing a high incidence of fibroids. Eight out of every ten women here have them and some of us don't even know. The awareness of this condition is growing and we women know that they thrive on protein, yet we still follow life-long eating patterns and continue to dine on meat, particularly chickens loaded with growth hormone.
There is also a disturbing trend among mothers, who tend to feed salty, cheesy, processed snack food, loaded with monosodium glutamate (MSG in short) to their children. I must admit that I am guilty of that one. It takes real effort and will to say no to the snack food junkie/monster that I have now unleashed. However, I am trying to mend my errors by ensuring that my son takes a healthy snack to school and that he has fruits as part of his diet everyday. Otherwise, I am sure to find myself with an overweight adolescent.
Jamaica is classified as a third world country so one would expect to see people of a particular size and no bigger. Not so. These days, I see obese people everywhere I look and truthfully, I don't need to go far a field to see growing evidence of eating habits gone haywire. I need but look down to see the budding bulge that I am now sporting in my mid-section.
If that's not scary enough, there are the secondary effects of our bad eating practices. Diabetes and high blood pressure are extremely common in Jamaica and some persons have a lethal combination of both. Women are also suffering more heart attacks and men are developing breast cancer in increasing numbers.
Persons who have the aforementioned diseases have at least a passing knowledge of the foods that are a no-no, but for as many who stick to their diet, there are far more who know what they must not have and decide to have a little taste of this or that anyway; resulting is episodes where they are unable to function for days after yielding to temptation.
There is also the scenario where persons just do not understand the nature of the diseases they have and are unaware of the dangers they face in eating certain foods. I have a co-worker who is diabetic and refuses to have anything with a drop of sugar in it, but will sit down to a meal chock-full of starchy foods. These misconceptions can be deadly and it is our responsibility to try to understand our illnesses and deal with them accordingly.
Fortunately for many of us, there are ongoing health programmes that are undertaken by the government to educate us on the dangers of common illnesses. There are also low cost clinics where citizens can get treatment when they overdose on too much of a good thing.
I feel we are facing a health crisis that we aren't even aware of, but I also feel that we can do much to improve our physical condition.
Ultimately, responsibility for our health lies with each one of us and it is imperative that we in-still good eating habits in our children as early as possible. This will go far in curtailing the gradual decline in good health that some of us now face.
Good habits can be reinforced by taking time to prepare healthy meals, sharing these with our children and helping them to make the right food choices. It is never too early for children to understand the impact their diet, good or bad, will have on their bodies.
It would also do us good to cut back on the vast quantities of fast-food that we consume each week. This will definitely take a little effort, but when you think about what can be achieved, isn't it well worth it?
I certainly think it is.
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