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Category: Health Care 01 Nov 15

What’s for breakfast? Sausages and bacon? What’s for lunch? Hops and ham? Saltfish and buljol? Oxtail soup? What’s for dinner? Geera pork? Steak? Beef stew? Lamb chops? You’re trying to kill yourself, aren’t you?

Last week a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report that dealt a blow to meat-eaters worldwide. The report (after a year of deliberations by international scientists) linked processed meats (such as bacon, salami, hot dogs, deli meat) with cancer, and as "carcinogenic to humans," a category shared by smoking, solar radiation and alcoholic beverages.

A UK Guardian headline shouted, “UN health body says bacon, sausages and ham among most carcinogenic substances along with cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and arsenic.”

The report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said there was enough evidence to rank processed meats as group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer. The IARC report said that eating red meat was also linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer, placing it in group 2A as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC experts revealed “each 50- gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.”

Dr Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs programme said “for an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

Scientists reportedly don't know exactly why processed meats cause cancer, but one theory suggests that nitrate, a preservative, can form carcinogenic compounds in the body when consumed. Another is that carcinogens form when meat is cooked at high temperatures, like roasting, grilling, frying and smoking.

The report concluded that “in view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.” Now that this information (that has been available to us for decades on the internet and millions of publications) has been rubber stamped by the weighty WHO, the scientists, meat distributers, manufacturers are thrashing out the small print.

The meat industry (naturally) furious at this potential loss of income from a drop in meat sales outright rejected any comparison between cancer and meat. They pulled out the big guns. Robert Pickard, a member of the Meat Adversary Panel and emeritus professor of neurobiology at Cardiff University said, “What we do know is that avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer.

“The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes.”

So what does all this mean for T&T? We can argue till the cows come home on the merits of this WHO study. The fact is our population is at risk of not just cancer but a host of other illnesses. In 2013 the UN Food & Agriculture Organization revealed that T&T was the most obese Caribbean country, and the sixth most obese worldwide. Thirty per cent of our population is obese.

So almost 400,000 of us are obese. How? Because we eat too many fatty foods, consume too much sugar, too much alcohol, too many processed foods, too much meat. We don’t use food as medicine. Vegetables consist of a limp lettuce leaf in too many of our meals in a country abundant with fruit and vegetables. We haven’t gotten around to taxing soft drinks, as we should to control runaway diabetes.

A quick check from medical sources reveals the following:

        Obesity leads to cancer: Being overweight increases your chances for developing cancer by 50 per cent.

        Diabetes: Obesity is considered one of the most significant factors in the development of insulin resistance, and insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes

        Heart disease: obesity is a major risk factor for developing coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke

        Obesity leads to high blood pressure: the primary cause of death among those older than 25

        High cholesterol levels—high cholesterol is one of the leading causes of heart attacks

        Infertility—being obese can cause changes in the hormonal levels of women, which can result in ovarian failure

        Back pain—obesity is one the contributing factors of back and joint pain. The odds of suffering from a spinal injury or structural damage increase

        Skin Infections—obese and overweight individuals may have skin that folds over on itself. These creased areas can become irritated from the rubbing and sweating, which can lead to skin infections

        Ulcers—obesity can be a contributing factor to the development of gastric ulcers

        Gallstones—being severely overweight increases the risk of developing gallstones, especially in women

Now that scientists are making the link between diet and cancer, now that has made world news, perhaps we too can take our heads out of the sand and see the link between our diets and a potentially very ill population. We already rank tenth in the world in crime. We can’t be both physically sick and psychologically scarred. It’s time the Ministry of Health launched a public campaign and got serious about the nation’s physical and mental health. An ill population erodes human capital, and ultimately eviscerates a country, hollows us out, fit only for nothingness.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur