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Programme to combat obesity in children... Action begins today

Published: 
Monday, July 9, 2018

“Childhood overweight and obesity is definitely increasing, and has been steadily doing so for many, many years. Studies from the 1970s onwards show a steady upward increase in the adult overweight and obesity prevalence. I consider childhood obesity just a reflection of the obesity prevalence in the adult population.” Registered dietician Jessica John made the statement as she reflected on the prevalence of childhood obesity in T&T.

John said the problem with putting a figure to the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity is that no statistics have been collected in the last five years or so. “Most of the data that is quoted nowadays are from studies that were done as far back as 1999. The most recent study to my knowledge was published in 2014 on data collected during the period September 2009 to June 2010 on 2130 school children aged seven to 18 years. The results showed that 15 per cent were obese and 17 per cent were overweight, with primary school children having a higher prevalence of obesity and overweight than secondary school children.

“Alarmingly, more than 40 per cent had at least one risk factor for type 2 diabetes.”

John said there are many factors which contribute to the increase in childhood obesity. One is genetic predisposition where babies in the womb can be affected by different factors, including but not limited to an overweight and/or obese mother, which predispose them to develop obesity and other non-communicable diseases later in life. Another is that T&T is a food and nutrition insecure nation, where different socio-demographic strata of society have different levels of access to nutritionally adequate and quality food. John said the third factor is the culture of T&T.

“As a culture,” she claimed, “we are resistant to change, and have difficulty integrating and collaborating across sectors, hence we make policies, but struggle to implement, monitor and evaluate. This inertia also exists on an individual level where we do not see our lifestyle habits as part of the problem. We either live in denial or with an attitude of fatalism, and with all of this our children are watching and learning…and becoming.”

According to the Healthy Caribbean Coalition’s Civil Society Action Plan 2017 – 2021: Preventing Childhood Obesity in the Caribbean, the seven priority areas for action in the Civil Society Action Plan are trade and fiscal policies; nutrition literacy; early childhood nutrition; banning the marketing of healthy and unhealthy foods and beverages to children; school and community-based interventions; resource mobilisation; and strategic planning, monitoring, and evaluation.

All sectors have to get involved in fighting childhood obesity and one person who has come up with a new concept is Leah Lewis, CEO of To’ren Healthcare Consultancy. She is debuting her company’s first Summer Weight Loss Camp for children aged eight to 18 years old. Lewis said she was divinely inspired to “create a health promotion programme in the form of a vacation camp that specifically targets overweight and obese children and teenagers.

“I used my knowledge of public health and health promotion, coupled with my desire to do something that hasn’t been done before locally to such great magnitude, to design the camp. Considering the prevalence of obesity locally and globally, I’d say that the camp is quite timely in its appearance.”

Lewis said the goals for the children include both weight loss and sustained behaviour change. Campers will be separated for activities into the groups of eight-12 years old, 13-15 years old, and 16-18 years old.

Physical activities will include aerobics, martial arts/kick boxing, Zumba, swimming and water-aerobics, along with field trips.

Lewis added: “They’ve been chosen to increase physical fitness levels, improve knowledge of health, wellness and meal choices, change mindsets about healthy living, boost personal confidence and self-esteem and inspire life-long transformation through impactful motivation. That’s why I’ve chosen a balanced mixture of daily physical workouts, nutrition education, health education, self-esteem building, and weekly motivation with some top influencers who can be advocates for lifestyle change while sharing their stories of trials and triumphs.

“The children will also be screened by a team of medical professionals at the beginning and end of the programme for specific health risk factors and to evaluate their progress in the programme. Contact will also be maintained after the programme has ended to determine whether the adopted new behaviours are maintained.”

More Info

Camp will run from today,
July 9, to August 17, weekdays
from 8 am – 3:30 pm at
St. Anthony’s College, Diego Martin.
For more information, email [email protected] and
call 775-1900.

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