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Tackling obesity with physical activity
Participation in sport and physical activity (PA) has the potential to contribute to a healthy lifestyle and society. As such the Healthy Schools Initiative launched by the Health Minister Deyalsingh is laudable.
In 2015, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) reported “that least one in every five 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 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…..”
However, if sport and physical activity in schools is to yield maximum results it has to be approached strategically and integrated with other measures for establishing a health society. As such several points should be considered.
Firstly, there must be passionate advocacy promoting the benefits of sport and physical activity and increasing participation rates across the population. A collaborative approach should be taken involving various stakeholders including the Ministries of Health, Sport and Youth Affairs, Education, Community Development, the THA, private sporting associations and the private sector.
Secondly, it is important 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 must not be assumed that once people become active there will be a related decrease in obesity levels.
Thirdly, the availability of parks and recreational grounds will not automatically result in usage. There is need for strategic intervention to encourage participation across all ages, gender and religion. 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 also form part of the discussion to develop a healthier society. In addition to a healthier society, part of country’s overall health costs may also be reduced which will be welcome in light of growing economic challenges.