Access to fresh food for all is needed to curb obesity in Jersey

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JERSEY’S director of Public Health has called for all Islanders to have access to fresh food to help curb the Island’s ongoing obesity problem.

Professor Peter Bradley believes that obesity levels outlined in a recent report could have significant implications for adult health and place further stress on the healthcare system.

The 2021 Obesity, Diet and Physical Activity report, published by the government’s Public Health Intelligence team, found that 32% of adult Islanders were overweight and 18% obese.

Professor Bradley said: ‘The figures are not surprising as obesity is a real challenge for us. It has real implications on our day-to-day health and could place stress on our healthcare system, as there are over 2,000 admissions each year related to obesity.’

A total of 57% of those identified as overweight or obese by the report were men.

Meanwhile, a total of 9,380 patients were registered on the Jersey Quality Improvement Framework obesity register at the end of 2021. More than 1,100 obese Islanders also had hypertension and/or diabetes.

Professor Bradley said that ‘a joined-up effort involving a number of factors’ was needed to tackle the problem, which had been made worse by the rapid rise in the cost of living.

‘We know that we have a cost-of-living crisis and when people have less money, they tend to buy more processed food, as it is cheaper. Therefore, we need to look at making sure everyone has the opportunity to access fresh food, including fruit and vegetables,’ he said.

The report found that only 31% of adults had eaten the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but Professor Bradley said access to both was not always equal across the Island.

‘If you live in rural areas, you can often buy roadside fruit and vegetables at this time of year for a reasonable price, [but] those who live in built-up areas may not have that chance,’ he said.

The report also revealed that 42% of people with a high BMI said they would do more exercise if they had more free time, while 26% said they would be more active if they had a higher disposable income.

Professor Bradley said: ‘We know that working patterns have changed over the years and a lot of people work office jobs and stare at a screen all day. And we know that a number of people who are overweight or obese said they did not have the time to exercise, and so maybe there are things employers can do to allow staff to have time to exercise.’

A report earlier this year from the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, which assesses levels and trends in child and adolescent physical activity across the world, ranked Jersey joint-44th out of 47 countries – giving it a grade F for overall physical activity levels – slipping from a grade D in 2018.

However, the government did show improvement in its efforts to support children and young people’s physical activity, moving up from a grade D in 2018 to a grade C in 2022.

The Jersey Child Measurement Programme also released its figures for 2021/22 at the end of the summer, which were included in the Obesity, Diet and Physical Activity profile.

It found that 25% of children aged four and five were ‘overweight or obese’, alongside 31% of Year 6 schoolchildren.

However, the figures were a slight improvement on those from 2020/21, which claimed 30% of children aged four and five and 37% of Year 6 pupils were ‘overweight or obese’.

According to the programme, 44% of Year 6 children 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 sports activities and exercise over the summer holidays for lower-income families was contributing to the divide, which also showed that pupils were less likely to be obese if they went to a fee-paying school.

Professor Bradley added, however, that considerable work was taking place to address obesity issues among children.

‘We have got the school-meals programme being rolled out and there are a number of initiatives in schools to encourage healthy eating and regular exercise. The government needs to look at its role in also facilitating and encouraging healthy habits among adults.

‘We could begin to look at active transport and make sure we are encouraging more people to cycle and walk, as we know this can make a difference,’ he said.

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