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Sport, physical activity = healthier society

Monday, February 29, 2016

Participation in sport and physical activity (PA) has the potential to contribute to a healthy lifestyle and society. However, a worthwhile contribution would only be beneficial if sport and physical activity is approached in a strategic manner and properly integrated with other measures for achieving a health society. 

This was identified by CARICOM at its POS Regional Summit on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in September 2007. The 14 points declaration included two points on sport and physical activity:

• “That we will mandate the re-introduction of physical education in our schools where necessary, provide incentives and resources to effect this policy and ensure that our education sectors promote programmes aimed at providing healthy school meals and promote healthy eating;

• “That we will promote policies and actions aimed at increasing physical activity in the entire population, e.g. at work sites, through sport, especially mass activities, as vehicles for improving the health of the population and conflict resolution and in this context we commit to increasing adequate public facilities such as parks and other recreational spaces to encourage physical activity by the widest cross-section of our citizens.”

A NCD Progress Indicator Status/Capacity by Country in Implementing the NCD summit Declaration was drawn up. Physical Activity was to be measured by three indicators:

• Mandatory Physical PA in all grades in schools to which T&T indicated was ‘in place’;

• Mandatory provision for PA in new housing developments to which T&T indicated ‘not in place’; and

• Ongoing, mass Physical Activity or New Public PA spaces to which T&T indicated ‘in place’.

However by 2015, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) announced at its meeting in Dominica (March 2015) that the region is facing a childhood obesity epidemic notwithstanding improvements in the overall health status of children and young people over recent decades.  

Very alarmingly, CARPHA states “that least 1 in every 5 of our children carry unhealthy weights and risk developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, later in life.”  The Report also states that such reality would result in “higher lifetime health costs for the individual and the state.”

In 2016, Minister Deyalsingh in a very alarming pronouncement stated that obesity among children had increased by 100 per cent in the last 15 years and that “Sugar is not the only culprit. The other culprit is inactivity…,” 

This observation reinforces the view of former Minister of Health Dr Faud Khan who stated there was a growing “fat” society syndrome among the adult and young population which was related to several socio-economic factors. 

The CARPHA Report 2015 and PANAM STEPS Report 2012 reiterated the points of the CARICOM Report on NCDs 2007 suggesting that in addition to maintaining a healthy diet, physical activity is important in establishing an overall healthy lifestyle and society. 

As PA is only one component to addressing the growing obesity among the population, baseline data can be derived from the indicators for PA stated in the CARICOM NCDs Report 2007. This baseline data can serve as the basis upon which strategic measures can be taken as well as allow for effective monitoring and evaluation.  

For these indicators to be effective several points should be considered when developing a sport and physical activity framework for a healthy society. 

Firstly, there must be a clear advocate for promoting the benefits of sport and physical activity and increasing participation rates across the population. There must be a collaborative effort by various ministries such as Health, Sport and Youth Affairs, Education, Community Development, the THA, private sporting associations and the private sector. 

Secondly, it is critical that proper monitoring and evaluating mechanisms are utilised to assess measures implemented.  Such an approach will require the use of rigid performance benchmarks and standards.  It is important not assume that once people become active there will be a related decrease in obesity levels.  

Thirdly, the provision of parks and recreational grounds as have been done will not automatically result in usage by communities.  For effective usage, there will need to be some form of strategic intervention to encourage participation and promote voluntary community usage thereafter. Involvement 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 to ensure desired goals are achieved.  

The recommendations of the CARPHA Report 2015, PANAM STEPS Report 2012 and CARICOM NCDs Report 2007 must form part of the discussion to develop a healthier society. In addition to a healthier society, the costs of health may also take a nosedive which will be welcome in light of growing economic challenges.


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