Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide and are responsible for 63% of deaths annually. NCDs, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes all share one common risk factor: obesity.
Referred to as the single most significant public health issue in the world, the obesity epidemic has for the first time in history led to more people being overweight than underweight.
The epidemic is especially urgent in places like Saint Lucia, where approximately 52.9 percent of the population is overweight, another 21.4 percent obese, and non-communicable disease accounts for 78 percent of all mortality.
A native of Saint Lucia and a doctoral student in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior, Elizabeth Serieux is researching various methods intended to improve dietary behavior in overweight and obese Saint Lucians.
A small, middle-income island nation, Saint Lucia’s hospital system was originally designed to address acute illness rather than non-communicable diseases.
“Many non-communicable diseases are detected late, when treatment requires expensive treatments and office visits, most of which have to be paid out of pocket,” Serieux explains.
“Sick individuals cannot contribute to the workforce and development,” she continues, “and require resources from their families, friends, community, and the national economy. Left unchecked, the rise of non-communicable disease in Saint Lucia will force increased spending, both personal and national, on trying to reverse the effects of diseases that are mostly preventable.”
Serieux’s study assesses the effectiveness of diet-related text messages, sent to participants twice per day, to promote and preserve good health and weight management.
The text messages, determined in the pilot study and designed to be both educational and motivational, focus on six main areas designed to help participants: decrease the consumption of sweetened beverages, decrease consumption of fried foods, increase consumption of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, decrease overall portion size, read nutrition labels, and eat and drink mindfully.
“I think my research is both useful and applicable because it addresses chronic, non-communicable disease, the number one cause of death and disability in the world, in the contexts where it does the worst damage, such as low and middle income populations.”
“By incorporating mobile technology, I hope to create ways in which people can actually improve their lives where it counts- in terms of everyday choices and consequent behavior. I also hope to use this research as a way to influence policies to support health promotion and disease prevention in applicable contexts.”
After graduation, Serieux plans to continue working to address chronic disease in special populations, including low and middle-income countries and also in area in higher income countries that are disproportionately affected.
She also hopes to continue to use technology- particularly mobile technology- in an effective, low cost and sustainable way.
“Ideally, I would like to combine research, program development and implementation, and teaching in one job. Whether that will be in the context of a university, an international organization, or an organization I create, we will see!”