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Engagement in sport and physical activities has the potential to contribute to a healthy lifestyle and society. However, a worthwhile contribution would only be beneficial if sport and physical activities is approached in a strategic manner and properly integrated with other measures for achieving a health society.
In 2012, the PanAm STEPS Report on Chronic Non Communicable Disease (CNCD) indicated an increase in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers and certain respiratory diseases in T&T. It was reported that non-communicable diseases account for over 60 percent of premature loss of life (death before 70 years).
Coupled with these findings, in recent times there have been numerous statements from the Minister of Health as well as other health personnel that there is an alarming increase in the overall level of obesity especially among children. This growing ‘fat’ society syndrome among the adult and young population is related to several socio-economic factors.
The adult population is affected on a daily basis by the demands of work, doing sometimes two or more jobs, traffic congestion, striving for educational advancement, engaging in leisure activities that involve high consumption levels of caloric and cholesterol foods and beverages and little or no physical activities. On the other hand, the youth is affected by the daily demands of the education curriculum especially those students who are caught in the extra lesson phenomenon, a fashionable youth culture which is defined by high consumption levels of fast food, sedentary social activities and an overall low level of intense physical activities.
The PanAm STEPS Report 2012 suggested that in addition to maintaining a healthy diet, physical activities are important in establishing an overall healthy lifestyle and society. These suggestions have been reinforced by comments from the Minister of Health and other medical officials. The measures for addressing the growing concern of increases in CNCD’s and obesity among the population must be linked to the causes to ensure that they are properly understood and therefore allow for informed practical measures as well as effective monitoring and evaluation. Several points should be considered for developing a framework upon which sport and physical activities for a healthy society can be established.
Firstly, there must be a clear advocate for promoting the benefits of sport and physical activities and increasing participation rates across the population. At the moment it seems that the Ministry of Health is making the claim for an increase physical activity among the population without the active involvement of the Ministry of Sport and its institutions. Additionally, there needs to be a collaborative effort of various ministries such as Health, Sport, Education, Community Development and Gender and Youth to ensure greater effectiveness in advocating the health value of sport and physical activities across every segments of the society. Secondly, it is important for administrators not assume that by just indicating that physical activities are beneficial, the population would engage in developing an active lifestyle. Sport has to be seen as a social construct and any approach to making it effective from a health perspective would require an understanding of the many factors that influence sport involvement.
Thirdly, it is critical that proper monitoring and evaluating mechanisms are utilised to assess measures implemented. Not only will such an approach allow for assessing the effectiveness of the existing measures but will also allow for improvements to achieve the desired goals while at the same time ensuring that all resources are properly optimized. Such an approach will require the use of rigid performance benchmarks and standards. For instance in a study conducted in England, Smith, Green and Roberts (2004), found that both sport participation rates and obesity levels had increased at the same time. Further analysis showed that although participation rates had increased, there was not a simultaneous increase in the intensity level of the physical activities. Therefore, it is important not assume that once people become active there will be a related decrease in obesity levels. In Canada, Kremarik, 2008, noted that after reviewing data from the General Social Survey (GSS) 1998 on time use, children believed that although having fun and having a positive self-view was important to determine whether they participated in sport, family involvement and influence was also important.
Fourthly, although sport and health camps such as the Ministry of Health Wee Fit Camp would be able to yield the best benefits for the participants, the effectiveness of the measures would be best tested when there is continuity outside of the controlled environment of the camps. For effective continuity to take place, support has to come from parents, guardians, sport and physical clubs, community groups and the private sector. Furthermore, the assessment of the measures has to be extended into these areas ensure a proper assessment of the desired goals of the measures.