Half Of Vanuatu’s Population Reportedly Overweight: Study

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Half Of Vanuatu’s Population Reportedly Overweight: Study ‘Alarming’ prevalence of non-communicable diseases revealed

By Jonas Cullwick

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, April 3, 2013) – Vanuatu has a high prevalence of risk factors that contribute to non-communicable diseases (NCD) which increase with age and are highest in 45-54 age group.

This is according to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) recent STEPwise approach to NCD Surveillance (STEPs) survey, which highlights an alarming status of the health of the people of the country.

The STEPS survey shows a high level of NCD risk factors in both urban and rural areas with 50 percent of the people in the country overweight. Obesity, though small in comparison to the overweight figure, is nevertheless found in all ages and is higher in the 45–54 age group.

Twenty-one percent of the population has high blood sugar and about 30% have high blood pressure. About 36 percent of the people in all ages have high cholesterol, which is higher in the 45-54 age group with nearly 50% of them having high cholesterol.

Forty-six percent, nearly half of the men are tobacco users and encouragingly only 4% of women are tobacco users. Although the number of alcohol users is comparatively small with 12% of men and 2.4% of women recorded, this figure is inflated by the use of kava figures which show that 68% of men and 18% of women drink kava.

Nearly half of all women, 43%, lack physical exercise and 21% of men.

The four categories of the NCDs are cardiovascular disease and stroke, diabetes, cancer, and chronic pulmonary respiratory diseases. The four risk factors that are largely responsible for causing NCDs are use of tobacco, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity or lack of exercise and harmful use of alcohol. In Vanuatu the prevalence of these risk factors is high as shown by the result of the STEPS survey, implying increased health burden due to NCDs in years to come.

The more the risk factors, the more the chances of developing and dying from NCDs. STEPS shows that 22% of adults in Vanuatu have 3 or more combination of risk factors.

"Based on the combination of risk factors, we can predict the risk of a cardiovascular event in populations. 11.4% of men and 4.9% of women have 30% or more risk of a cardiovascular event in 10 years. This can present itself as a stroke or a heart attack," the MOH’s summary of NCD risk factors from STEPS survey states.

The burden of non-communicable diseases is increasing rapidly and about 70-75% of adult mortalities in Vanuatu are related to NCDs and much of the premature deaths (deaths below 60) are due to NCD, the Ministry says.

"The national NCD program needs to develop an NCD Community Strategy that recognizes that community education and behavior change are necessary to control NCDs, and that was the aim of last week’s workshop bringing together key MOH staff to develop a comprehensive NCD Communication Strategy that uses a multi-media approach."

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