Opinion: The price of living unhealthy

POSTED: 04/15/12 4:30 PM

That living an unhealthy lifestyle is a bad idea sounds a bit like a no-brainer. Yet, all around us we see people doing exactly that. They eat too much, they eat unhealthy, they drink and smoke like there is no tomorrow and they’ve forgotten how to even spell exercise. The result is there for all to see: too many people are overweight, and an alarming number of them are beyond overweight – they are obese.
Now scientists in the Netherlands say that the consequences of all this will go way beyond obesity. They expect that a growing number of people between the ages of 50 and 60 will suffer from dementia in the near future.
Four scientists who work at the Free University of Amsterdam and its Medical Center say that there is a direct link between an unhealthy lifestyle during one’s early youth and the development of dementia later on in life.
Neuropsychologist Erik Scherder says that the disease (of obesity) is not taken seriously. In the first 25 years you can ruin your health for the rest of your life, is his opinion.
The figures are already frightening right now – and they will only get worse in the future, unless someone comes up with a plan to turn the tide. Children are developing forms of diabetes that normally hit elderly people. In 2025 Scherder expects that there will be 1.4 million people with diabetes in the Netherlands. Of this group, 85 percent will be overweight or obese and chances that they start becoming demented are relatively high.
The 1.4 million people Scherder mentioned in an article in the Volkskrant, represent roughly 8.2 percent of the population. If a similar trend develops in St. Maarten, the country would be faced with approximately 3, 300 diabetes patients of which more than 2, 800 would be overweight or obese. While these numbers pale compared to the 1.4 million Scherder mentions, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that this group will be an enormous burden for the local healthcare system.
Currently the Netherlands has 75, 000 obese children and half a million overweight kids. The average age of Alzheimer patients is 75. The scientists say that genetic factors account for just one percent of the expected increase in the next fifteen years.
Remarkably, research into obesity and dementia is still in the early stages. What we do know is that dementia is a terminal illness and we also know that from the moment dementia is diagnosed, patients live on for another six to twelve years. During those years these patients need medical care and attention.
No wonder that the four scientists are calling for more attention for prevention. Jaap Seidell, a professor in nutrition and overweight says that the wrong lifestyle of young people is like an assassin, because in the early years brain impulses suffer severe damage from it.
The World Health Organization WHO expects that the number of people suffering from dementia will triple in the near future. Most of the increase will take place in former third world countries where people have adopted the unhealthy western lifestyle and where overweight and obesity are rising fast.
St. Maarten is warned; it is a good thing that the local Alzheimer foundation is already doing a lot of good work, but it is clear from the findings by the Dutch scientists that that is not enough.
The keyword for turning the tide is prevention. That means that children from a young age must adopt a healthy lifestyle. Part of that lifestyle ought to be a healthy diet; another important component is exercise.
Our Ministers de Weever (public health) and Arrindell (sports and education) have their work cut out for them. They will have to take action now to prevent burdening the generation of 2025 with a bunch of overweight, obese and demented citizens.

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