Obesity, a disease that must be prevented

By María Recinos

In Guatemala, obesity is a public health problem that has increased in recent years. According to the National Program for Chronic Diseases Prevention, about 40% of children over 5 years of age and adolescents currently suffer from this disease. In adults the problem is greater reaching 70% (33% obese and 37% overweight), as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle, a diet with excess of calories (sugars, animal fats, trans fats) and with reduction of healthy nurtures such as fruits and vegetables; adding the lack of physical activity and exercise, which has been worsened by the lockdown in times of pandemic.

Taking care of food intake seems difficult for many, especially for those people who do not suffer from any obvious disease and are convinced that everything is fine with their body. Healthy lifestyle habits are difficult to maintain, even though this reduces the chances of contracting chronic noncommunicable diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, strokes, and high blood pressure) due to obesity. People who suffer from obesity are also more prone to suffer from psychological problems such as low self-esteem; generating feelings of shame, guilt and lack of self-confidence.

Reducing the risks of this condition is possible. In Guatemala, there is a dietary guide known as “La olla de Guatemala” which has two goals: helping to prevent chronic diseases and to avoid nutritional deficiencies. The Guatemalan feeding pot adapts to the special needs of the country and in their feeding guide they make known the following recommendations to take a good diet:  

  • Eat varied every day, because it is healthier and cheaper
  • Eat herbs, vegetables and fruits every day, because they have a lot of vitamins. Eat tortillas and beans daily, for each tortilla serve two tablespoons of beans, because it brings account, fills more and feeds better.
  • Eat three times a week or more: eggs, cheese, milk or incaparina that are special for growth during childhood and the health of the whole family.
  • Eat at least twice a week or more, a piece of meat, chicken, liver or fish to avoid anemia and malnutrition.
  • Eat different seeds, such as peanuts, broad beans, cashew, sesame because they provide a feeling of fullness and prevent you from eating junk food.
  • Eat less margarine, butter, refined flours, fried foods, processed dairy and sausages to take care of your heart and pocket.
  • Prepare meals with little salt to avoid illness. Avoid the least amount of sugar as these are found naturally in other foods.
  • Exercise every day or walk half an hour or more at a brisk pace to exercise your heart and other areas of the body. 
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol, especially on an empty stomach. 

It is essential that the population considers the long-term risks of obesity, which go beyond “aesthetic reasons”. It is necessary that the health and nutrition responsible entities in Guatemala continue to strengthen food education, together with hospitals and health centers so that healthy feeding is promoted, as well as breastfeeding, since even from childhood processed food is introduced into the diet.

Likewise, to improve food intake from the family and school environment, it is important to work hand in hand with parents committee in schools (it is recommended to control school stores to avoid overconsumption of junk food) and continue demanding the School Feeding Program in charge of the Education Ministry

Physical activities should also be promoted in the school and community, as well as at the family and individual level. Finally, non-profit organizations that work on food security axes must continue to promote gardens to improve nutrition and food resilience so that the population changes their lifestyle and thus avoid one of the chronic diseases such as obesity.