Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan takes his health seriously. Khan’s daily fitness routine starts early—5 am. He begins with 20 minutes of stretching and then exercises for an hour on his Bowflex Revolution Machine—a system that mimics traditional weights through the use of various discs with built-in tension coils. Khan also incorporates dumbbells into his workout, “because I’m getting old,” he said.
Although there is a gym both at the Parliament and the Ministry of Health, Khan says he prefers to workout on his own. He’s even thinking of resuming karate in the near future. On August 12, the minister will host an event organised by the Fight
the Fat Campaign at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, to encourage people to follow his example, get active, eat healthy diets and lead more fulfilling lives. The event, part of a campaign launched by the ministry in November 2011, is open to the public and is free.
Khan says the event, being staged to commemorate T&T’s 50th year of Independence, will offer diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol testing, as well as screenings for various eye ailments. At the event, scheduled to run
from 10 am-6 pm, people can also learn how to manage their weight, calculate their body mass index (BMI) and get valuable tips from health officials. Participants can also take part in various exercises, including aerobics, walking and zumba, to be headed by certified trainers and instructors. “It’s going to be a big thing in the Savannah. We want to show people that they need to be healthy. I will be taking part in all the exercises and I’m very excited,” Khan said. “I’m also working on getting soca artistes like Fay Ann, Bunji Garlin and Shurwayne Winchester to provide the entertainment.” Khan says too many people are comfortable being overweight and unhealthy.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health’s 2011 National Risk Factor Survey reveal that:
•Over 60 per cent of all deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and strokes.
•Heart disease is the number one cause of death in T&T, accounting for 25 per cent of all deaths.
•The diabetes prevalence rate among adults is approximately 12- 13 per cent.
•More than half the population (55.5 per cent) 15 and over are overweight or obese.
•A quarter (25 per cent ) of school-aged children (five– 18) are overweight or obese. Khan notes that while the ministry is doing its part to change people’s mindsets about health and fitness, the time has come for them to take their health into their own hands.
“As the minister, I’m telling you that you don’t have to have diabetes or hypertension,” he said. “The bill for cardiac bypass and kidney dialysis has also been increasing. People can change that. They need to be healthier to live longer lives.”
Also on the event’s agenda is a cookout, which Khan says will only include nutritious foods. “So bring your ingredients and come ready to cook. We will be sharing recipes as well,” he said. “We are also thinking of having a celebrity healthy cookout team and we will have people from the ministry judging them on the dishes... It’s going to be very interesting.” Speaking of his own diet, which he says has been “up and down,” Khan admits that eating healthily is a challenge. “I try to cut down on the soft drinks and fatty foods, but I do cheat now and again. I’m not ashamed,” he added, laughing. Noting that he’s not happy with his current weight, Khan says he’s on a mission to lose 20 pounds.
“I want to get back down to 195 pounds, the way I was before I got into politics. I try to eat a lot of fruits...Apples are very good and they tend to cut your appetite,” he said. “At Parliament, they have changed the menu a lot. We have more healthy foods like salads, steamed chicken and vegetables now, so it makes it easier for me to eat right. Before they would serve more fatty foods, you know, typical Trinidadian foods.” Khan’s colleagues are also trying to lead more healthy lifestyles. Minister of Works, Emmanuel George, says he is very health conscious. Getting adequate exercise, he says, is essential. He works out for one hour every morning to equip himself to deal with his increasingly demanding work schedule. “I don’t use the Parliament gym but I exercise virtually everyday. I get up at 3:30 am, take a jog for an hour to work up a heavy sweat and then I get to work for 6 am,” he explained. Will he be attending the campaign next month?
“Most likely I will be there. I normally support my colleagues when they have these events...Exercise is very important now to deal with all the stress and pressure we all have to face,” said George. Sharing similar sentiments is Education Minister, Dr Tim Goopeesingh, who maintains a balanced diet and a regular fitness routine. A former national cricketer, Gopeesingh says he has always lead an active lifestyle. However, now that he’s trying to loose 15 pounds, these days, he has taken his exercise routine to a higher level.
“I try to do some walking and I go to the gym at least twice or three time a week. I don’t use the gym at the parliament but I try to do a savannah when I can,” he stated. “I also get regular medical check ups. In fact, I had a few done recently and everything came back good. I try to eat as healthily as possible and play golf occasionally.” Goopeesingh says he will be present at the event “once time permits.” He added, “I support my minister and I encourage all citizens to attend. I call on them to watch their diet. Stop eating all the junk food and soft drinks with a lot of sugars.”
Next on Khan’s Fight the Fat schedule is convincing fast-food chains to decrease the amount of sugar, salt and trans fats in their foods and increase the servings of vegetables. He added, “The fast-food industry spends about one billion in advertising convincing you that bad food is good. I want to show people what happens when they over-indulge.” Saying obesity, especially among children, is on the increase, the minister says he plans to put billboards in strategic areas throughout the country to remind people of the dangers of leading unhealthy lives.