By DIANE PHILLIPS
The Bahamas holds an amazing array of records. From athletes who have run faster and jumped higher to world-shattering numbers of shark species in our 100,000 square miles of waters, The Bahamas shines. We exceed in sailing, singing and culinary arts. Our hotels are among the most famous on the globe, our fantasy islands among the most sought after, our beaches among the most dreamed of, some of our residents among the most noted or notorious.
Yes, when it comes to records and even to making news, The Bahamas is a pretty impressive finisher. With a population less than that of the City of Fort Lauderdale, this little country generates so much news and stands out in so many categories it is hard to find a subject we do not figure in or one that does not touch us. It is little wonder Bahamians feel a sense of pride, a swelling of the chest that morphs into self-chest- thumping when the name Bahamas arises unexpectedly. This is indeed a proud country filled with people who have plenty reason to be proud. We secretly think the song “Proud to be American” should be re-written with Bahamian at the end.
Such a little country, so many records.
Some of the records we hold we love. We deserve to be proud. But then there are the others, the records we hold that should shame us, but what do we do? We behave as a whole just like an individual does. We boast about the good records and live in denial about the ones we wish would go away. If we are going to own records, let’s get real. We need to own all and own up to all. Otherwise, we are never going to fix what is wrong because we are going to keep thinking it is up to someone else to fix it.
Some of the bad records are exposed largely because they are well-covered by media. We know our childhood pregnancy rates are too high, our murder, rape and incest rates are too high. There are too many bullies and too many bullied. We have too many gangs with too many guns. We bury too many with HIV/AIDS and take too much solace in the fact that while we are off the charts with the disease, Africa has it even worse. We have too many church-going men visiting too many sweethearts once Sunday dinner is over. We have too many young boys growing up with too little hope, too many young girls who think growing up means giving in and putting out. We have too many people living in fear and too afraid to go out and do something about it.
But there is one shameful record we can no longer afford to ignore. That is the record of our national un-health. We are a fat, out of shape nation with extraordinary rates of non-communicable illnesses - hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis.
I am not getting political here, plenty people do that far better than I ever could, but do want to give the Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands credit for attempting to bring it to the public’s attention. The stats he delivered are startling. Seventy nine percent of the Bahamian population is overweight or obese, he said, with half the population of The Bahamas falling into the obese category based on body mass index. One in every two or every other person is obese, think about what that means to a country as a whole. Obesity, he said, among school-aged children has skyrocketed 436 percent since 1988.
As for records, here is another one: The Bahamas has one of the highest rate of diabetes in the world.
What did we do when Dr Sands confronted us with this frightening news? Maybe we didn’t hear. Maybe we were gobbling peas ’n rice, macaroni and cheese and a heaping helping of homemade potato salad and slurping a sugary soda, a bit too engaged to realise he was talking directly to us. We consume fast food and tell ourselves it is healthy because that burger on a sesame seed roll comes with lettuce and tomato. We secretly harbour the status symbol attached to running the kids through a drive-in window. It says a) My Mom has a car, and b) Mom has the money to drop $10 or $20 so I don’t bug her to stay home from work and cook since I know she doesn’t have a choice anyway and without her income we wouldn’t have a car and the opportunity to run through the drive thru and besides it tastes good and it saves her time.
And meanwhile, we all get fatter. And unhealthier.
As for exercise for the 60,000 school students, we have to ask, what happened to the hours we spent at physical education when everyone participated? Maybe, as someone pointed out, perhaps it was Dr Sands, we are so bent on creating super athletes to bring home those records, that all attention is on the kids with promise and the fat kids sit on the bench happy to cheer on their classmate who is star material in the rough and then one day they can say they went to school with JohnnieSuperHero.
Historically, when did we begin to become A Nation out of Shape? So ironic when you count the number of super athletes, and the records The Bahamas holds in sports. Yet someone just this week described a quasi-government department where he works as containing twice the weight it needed – not the number of people, but the space they occupied.
Part of the problem with Bahamians being overweight or obese is Bahamians are a truly handsome, even beautiful, people. They carry the fat so well, especially if they are well-groomed. It would be hard to find a Size 12 woman in the US who could hold a candle to a Size 16 woman in The Bahamas if the two were similarly dressed and coiffed. It doesn’t help that a lot of men like a lot of women with a lot of meat on them, either. And another irony, if you look up unhealthy in an online dictionary, it will describe the condition in words that have no relevance in terms of appearance like “unhealthy pallor,’ or “looking pale and sickly,” or wan or sallow. Most of the unhealthy Bahamians who are carrying around enough weight for another half a person have smiles that would make a dentist proud and except for their weight, look like the picture of health. Maybe that’s another record we have to explore – the handsomest unhealthiness…
It’s not all blabbing about blubber. Fortunately, as the problem with obesity and its side effects increases, so does the interest in wellness. There are at least three local doctors, and maybe more, whose growing practices revolve around their desire to keep patients well as opposed to just seeing them when they are sick. Dr Arlington Lightbourne (Collins Ave), Dr Darius Bain (Sandyport) and Dr Graham Cates (Blake Road) are all believers that every individual has the capacity to make ourselves whole and healthier than we are. This is an extremely promising trend. I believe that as frightening as one end of the spectrum is, there is light at the other end. More people are out walking in the early morning, jogging, cycling, exercising at Goodman’s Bay or Montagu Beach. That trend, too, shows promise.
If the health of a nation is the wealth of a nation, it is no wonder our economy has been sluggish, stutter stepping like a drunk on a Friday night under the bridge. Productivity requires healthy minds and bodies. Is there a solution? Only the one deep inside each of us – to create our own record, not one we shun as shaming us, but one that invites a boost in self-respect and a new spurt of energy. Maybe, just maybe, when we feel better about ourselves, we will transfer that to feeling better toward the people around us and then we will all be a little better off. Maybe it is, in the end, all about setting our own goals and achieving our own records.