There is some evidence that noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are increasingly becoming major public health concerns in Belize, in particular as reflected in the country's mortality and hospitalization statistics over the past several years. However, there is a lack of adequate information on the prevalence of chronic diseases in Belize and the populations affected. Such information is important for securing and allocating financial resources for the development and implementation of prevention and control programs. From November 2005 to July 2006, the Ministry of Health of Belize and PAHO's Central American Diabetes Initiative (CAMDI) implemented a national, cross-sectional, household survey to measure the prevalence of diabetes mellitus and hypertension, and their associated risk factors.
A sample size of 2,635 persons 20 years of age and older was determined. A total of 2,439 persons were interviewed, and blood samples were taken and laboratory analysis performed on 1,629. Variables measured were socio-demographics, family history of noncommunicable diseases, smoking, alcohol consumption, lipid profile, physical activity, fruit, vegetable and oil consumption, and health-seeking behavior.
The overall prevalence of diabetes mellitus was found to be 13.1%—5.6% newly diagnosed and 7.7% known—while the overall prevalence of hypertension was 28.7%—12.1% newly diagnosed and 16.6% known. Obesity, overweight and high cholesterol, major risk factors, showed a prevalence of 32.5%, 33.2% and 5.1% respectively. A high Body Mass Index, Triglyceride level, age, and a large waist circumference were the most consistent predictors of disease.
The majority of study participants were non-smokers (81.2%). Of those who were current smokers, the majority were in the 20-39 age group (50.6%), and former smokers tended to be 20-39 (41.8%) or 40-64 years old (38.3%). The prevalence of current tobacco use was 10.2% - 17.7% among men and 1.4% among women. However, women who smoke reported smoking more cigarettes in the last 30 days than did men (11.3 cigarettes/day vs. 8.8 cigarettes/day). It appears that men and women began smoking at early as age 13 (19.1 +/- 6.3 years).
One third of respondents (31.7%) consumed alcohol; however alcohol consumption was less common with increased age in both sexes. Men generally ingested alcohol more often than women (2.6 days/week vs. 1.6 days/week) and ingested larger quantities (8.5 drinks vs. 3.6 drinks).
The majority of respondents reported less than 60 minutes of physical activity per week (77.7%). Among those who reported 150 minutes of physical activity or more per week, the majority were more in the 20-39 year age group (73.1%).
In conclusion, although there were some notable socio-demographic differences in the occurrence of these non-communicable health conditions, the results indicated that diabetes, hypertension and their risk factors are serious public health concerns countrywide, and all populations are affected.