BY JOHN LEWES
Access to a Mediterranean diet and regular exercise from the walking available should be enough to keep Gibraltar healthy, and that does seem to be a winning combination for most citizens in Gibraltar. In addition, regular medical check-ups, including screenings, can make sure that all is actually as it should be, in the same way that a car well-maintained with a regular road-worthiness test will run smoothly for many kilometres without a problem, if driven well, delivering the long life expected of it.
The four factors encouraged and promoted by Public Health Gibraltar to ensure a healthy lifestyle are leisure-time physical activity, a balanced diet, limited or no alcohol consumption not smoking. They posit that “being aware of your lifestyle and knowing when, and how, to make positive changes can help you live longer and healthier”.
One of the strongest recommendations by all health organisations is that people should be eating a diet that mostly consists of plant foods. Gibraltar has available all the ingredients that make up the Mediterranean diet, for which the area is famed, and a growing number of people understand the health benefits of keeping to a vegan diet.
The Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) explains in its Health Matters report that the good life expectancy that Gibraltar enjoys is in keeping with the standards for western societies. Global health monitoring organisations, together with the GHA, report that, pre-covid, total life expectancy at birth for Gibraltar was 78.5 years for a male, and 83.3 years for a female.
However, just as important as a long life expectancy, is a healthy-life expectancy; an estimate of the number of years lived without a self-reported long-lasting physical or mental health condition that limits daily activities.
Life expectancy for Gibraltar was 78.5 years for a male, and 83.3 years for a female.
Minister for Public Health Dr John Cortes explains in the GHA Nation’s Health and Lifestyle Survey 2021 that:
“The importance of Public Health as a discipline has often not been appreciated, and it has sadly taken a global pandemic to drive home its importance, and the importance of achieving a healthy lifestyle.”
The 2021 survey shows that “generally, people in Gibraltar view themselves and others in the community as healthy.” Key findings were that although 80% of those surveyed describe their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, 65.5% report as being overweight or obese and 82% eat less than five portions of fruit and veg each day and only 27% exercise more than five times per week for at least 20 minutes.
In 2015, hypertension (high blood pressure) was the most common illness, with 12.5% of those surveyed reporting having the condition, with an increase to 19% in the 2021 survey. Untreated hypertension is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease. The GHA ‘s objectives are to increase the detection and treatment of undiagnosed hypertension through routine screening and antihypertensive drugs to control optimal blood pressure levels. You may want to visit sites such as thekidneydocs.com to know more about kidney disease and hypertension.
The maintenance of the quality of the Gibraltar public’s health is underpinned in Gibraltar by GHA Health Promotion Officers, who provide a range of services including distribution of health information resources and engaging with the general public through campaigns.
The GHA also provides screening programmes in Gibraltar, depending on age and health requirements, with two main programmes, for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening and bowel screening.
Several clinics in Gibraltar include a range of types of screenings and tests and provide health care assessments.
It is essential to tailor each health screening to the individual.
Dr Joanna Shelley, a clinician at Gibraltar’s College Clinic, explains: “One of the biggest changes that I have seen in my 34-year medical career is the ability for many conditions to be successfully treated and cured, most notably cancers and cardiovascular conditions, when these conditions are detected early.
“The College Clinic has been offering well-person screening for many years not only primarily to detect significant health problems but also to offer our clients peace of mind and reassurance that, within the parameters of the screening offered, they are functioning in a normal and healthy way.
“It is very important to note that these medicals are called ‘WELL-person’ medicals because they are designed to detect conditions in people who do not have any symptoms or acute medical conditions.
“It is also essential to tailor each health screening to the individual, so we offer different products that are directed at women and men and which may vary according to the age of the client.
“The medical involves two or three visits to the Clinic the first visits being for the client to provide a full medical history and also to identify any specific concerns that they might have. They will then see the nurse who will carry out blood tests, usually requiring the patient to have been fasting for 6-8 hours prior to the test.
“Once the blood tests and other special investigations are carried out and results are back from the laboratory – we use a laboratory with ISO 9001 and ISO 15189 accreditation to guarantee quality and reliable information – an appointment is made with the doctor to discuss the client’s concerns and assess all the tests, providing advice and reassurance, backed up by a written report sent after the appointment. This written report allows the client to absorb the information provided at a later date and so that the screening can be compared to future screening results.
“It is difficult to say how often clients should have a well-person screening as this can vary due to age, family history or pre-existing conditions. This can be discussed with the doctor during the first well-person screening. It is quite easy for us to forget when we last had a screening so we can set up a reminder once the client and doctor have agreed on a future schedule of screening using our Practice Manager system.
“For a screening on an annual basis, I have found a few clients who use their birthdays as a reminder to get this year’s medical done, which I think is quite a simple and clever way to remember their annual appointment with our well-person screening team.”