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Taking Care of the Environment for a Stronger Heart

For Release Upon Receipt - Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A message from the President of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados, Dr. Kenneth Connell, in recognition of World Heart Day 2019, which was on Sunday 29th September.

Taking Care of the Environment for a Stronger Heart

On World Heart Day 2019, Barbados and the region, have never had a more poignant time in our history, to stop and take note of the threats to our very survival; the heartbeats of our people are at risk.

This generation, indeed our current generations, occupying this space, have by default, and design, now been accused of leaving the world behind that carries a much greater threat to future hearts, than they inherited. This has resulted from our man-made environments, with all their architectural appeal and fast-food sound bytes, to create many unforeseen challenges. The species has underestimated the impact that this highly sophisticated and built-for-purpose ecosystem, could eventually have on our very survival. Simply put, our environment is now exerting revenge on centuries of abuse; it has effected this in both climate change and unhealthy-lifestyle diseases - the so-called non communicable diseases (NCDs).

The impact of climate change on vulnerable hearts is most evident in the fragile landscapes of our Caribbean tapestry. A region known, and celebrated international, for its resilience and creativity, now faces the formidable threats of increasingly more violent natural disasters. The islands of The Bahamas are recent examples of these extreme phenomena, but equally noticeable are the degree changes in our hotter “summers” and dryer droughts. These not only affect the heart of where we work and live, but they threaten the food security of a region nakedly exposed to a highly competitive international market, with rising costs of food and medicines. This appears heartless, but remains the reality of countries now trying to reverse a culture of plastics and water wastage, to one of recycling and conservation. Notwithstanding this trend towards reversal, the heartfelt truth remains that these states, the very states carrying a disproportionately higher burden of environmental impacts, may not be able to afford the solutions. These remedies require the massaging of economies of large and willing hearts, but small scales, that are inadvertently catapulted to post-colonial independent societies, in an awkwardly familiar state of dependency. Our world, the first world, remains a distant front runner. And at a record speed, the gap between the first and third world lengthens; future generation of hearts must carry the baton of hope in this race. The lack of equity on this field seems heartless, and yet even as we look towards our much bigger brothers, a cancer of inequality remains pervasive. How can we begin to address a problem in our own country of Barbados, when it still seems to haunt us at the heart of our DNA? The annual season of nature’s terrifying revenge must be a wake up call to take heart of where we live and how we repair it. Our scientists, and other scholars, are faced with a fertile ground of problems to fix, the challenge will be how innovative the whole of society response becomes towards solutions.

The physical environment is well defined and familiar to even the youngest hearts amongst us. The social environment, the color, taste, and sound, of our heartbeat, is less evident to an untrained eye. Some elements, often disguised as culture and beliefs, reflect a distilled behavioral change that has been shaped by modernity, and our desire to make this world, a more convenient space. We live in a world regulated by the economy of time, with minute meals, express travel, and fast cash. This new currency of life, and the factors that drive it, are part of those elements not only determining the health of hearts, but also predicting the life of hearts. The social determinants of health, include access to health care, educational status, and economic stability, but are only a few examples in this mix. Collectively, they not only influence how comfortable we are in our physical environment, but determine our risk factors for major diseases that cause our premature death. These NCDs, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and the cancers, are nurtured by the growing risk of obesity. The social determinants of health mean that our poorest brothers and sisters, are less likely to afford healthy foods, and alarmingly, this burden appears to be trans-generational. Childhood obesity is an easy target in environments that are saturated with sugar dense beverages, high in trans-fats, and with limited physical activity. Even within the more regulated and disciplined environments of our schools, the indiscipline of school menus and sale of sugar sweetened beverages, creates sweat-hearts and cardiovascular risk at an early age.


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