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Analytical summary - Risk factors for health

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A study conducted in the Gambia in 2008 by WHO and a local nongovernmental organization, the International Organization of Good Templers, shows a 24.5% prevalence rate of smoking among 13–15 year olds. The results of the 2010 WHO STEPwise survey on noncommunicable disease risk factors also shows a 31.3% prevalence rate of smoking among people aged 25–34 years. The banning of cigarette advertisements and public smoking shows the Government`s commitment to reducing ill health among the population, especially in the young population.

The 2010 WHO STEPwise survey also reveals that about 2% of the adult population aged 25–64 years drinks alcohol.

The Gambian diet is generally high in fat, which predisposes to chronic illness and especially cardiovascular disease. The 2010 WHO STEPwise survey also noted the low consumption of fruits and vegetables, with the average mean number of days per week for fruits and vegetable consumption among adult males and females estimated at 3.3 and 5.0, respectively. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal in the Gambia, becoming relatively expensive at some times of the year and this may explain their low consumption.

About 22% of the adult population (males and females) has a low level of physical activity, while nearly 59% of adults do not engage in rigorous physical activity. On average, Gambian adults spend 231 minutes per day on sedentary activities. However, the culture of exercise is slowly catching on, with people attending privately operated gymnasia. The Ministry of Youth and Sports is also encouraging mass sports as a way of interesting people in healthy living.

On average, 41.4% of adults Gambians have never had their blood pressure tested. About 24.4% of the adult population has raised blood pressure (25.5% of men and 23.4% of women). About 90.5% of adults (92.1% of men and 89% of women) have never had their blood sugar tested. About 39.5% of the adult population (33.7% of men and 45.3% of women) is considered overweight with mean body mass index > 25 kg/m2.

These figures highlight the need for innovative means of interesting the population in health checks at regular intervals.

The capacity to manage noncommunicable diseases is limited because the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, the main referral hospital in the Gambia, is the only public health facility that has the capacity to manage adverse noncommunicable disease cases. The major and minor health facilities that receive the bulk of patients in both the urban and rural areas have limited capacity to manage noncommunicable diseases effectively.