Over the last couple of weeks, Barbadians expressed 'shock' over what appeared to be an alarming number of 'sudden deaths' on the island. However, facts have shown that obesity which takes blame for several illnesses can result in 'what appears to be' sudden death and when one considers that a large number of our children are obese, the situation should worry all of us
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has warned that the region is in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic and this belief was backed by Dr Audrey Morris, the advisor on food and nutrition at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) who indicated that the number of obese and overweight children in the Caribbean has doubled in the last decade.
In Barbados, the Global School Health Survey revealed that 31.9% of students were overweight and 14.4% obese. The study found that 18.5% of students surveyed consumed fast food three or more days per week and 73.3 % drank one or more carbonated beverages every day. Only 12.7% reported eating five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day over a 30-day period, and 15 % reported eating no fruit or vegetables during the same period.
Additionally, the survey found that only 28% of Barbadian children met that criterion, of 60 minutes of exercise for children a day. More than 70% were considered physically inactive it also found that students engaged in at least three hours of sedentary activity each day centred on electronic media, television and video games.
Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr Kenneth George, at a recent public lecture, described childhood obesity as “a worrisome public health development”. He pointed to the link between childhood obesity and the increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure, early atherosclerosis and asthma.
He said other areas of concern included psychological and psychosocial problems, joint and bone disease, sleep apnea, endocrine disorders and even some cancers.
Dr George maintained that obese children were more likely to be ill and have increased sick days from school; and they were also at higher risk of becoming obese adults.
The Ministry of Health mounted a programme in collaboration with the Barbados Drug Service and the Ministry of Education, which feature a series of interactive mini-lectures on the topic: Smart Eating – Children Making Healthy Food Choices.
The sessions, which were geared towards children aged 10 and 11, were educating them about the negative effects of unhealthy diets high in calories, sodium and fat; and the benefits to be gained by eating more fruits, vegetables, ground provisions and legumes, and drinking more water.
We also understand that the physical education classes in schools are being dodged by students and that in some schools the time allotted for physical education has been reduced and this is even more evident during exam time.
This really means that the seriousness that should be paid to educating and encouraging our young people in healthy lifestyles is being overlooked by the schools and by parents.
Parents must be prepared to take responsibility for the health of their children and take matters in their hands to ensure that children develop good eating habits and by that we mean a diet that includes adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits and that they participate in appropriate physical activity every day.
The excuse that healthy foods are expensive should never be used as nothing is more expensive than ill health.
So what can parents do?
I suggest that parents can start with conversations about healthy life styles in their homes and include the children. Discuss menus that include an appropriate portion of vegetables and try preparing these meals together as a family.
Introduce fruits for snacks and try drinking more water and limit the use of sugar in beverages.
The next step is to get physical. As a family, you can start to take walks together, make time for a swim on weekends or find a sport that you can try together or individually, but by all means get physically active.
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