Editorial

Fattening the children a clear and present danger

Monday, January 08, 2018

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The findings of the 2017 National Council on Drug Abuse Jamaica School Health Survey are indeed cause for concern which, thankfully, the education and health ministries seem determined to address.

According to the survey, the obesity rate among adolescents has increased since 2010 when the last survey was conducted, and there are no changes in the consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks.

A report in this newspaper last week informed us that the 2017 survey measured behavioural risk and protective factors among 1,667 students 13 to 17 years old in 41 schools islandwide. It revealed that 24 per cent of students (400) were overweight and nine per cent (150) obese.

Of this number, more girls than boys were both obese and overweight, with 28 per cent of females being overweight and 10 per cent being obese, as opposed to 20 per cent of males being overweight and nine per cent obese.

We also learnt from the survey that 68 per cent of participating students were drinking carbonated drinks one or more times per day, over 50 per cent ate fast foods one or more days per week, and 20 per cent spent more than eight hours per day sitting. Over 60 per cent reported that they ate fruits and vegetables one or more times per day.

A significant observation was made by bariatric surgeon Dr Alfred Dawes that schools, by granting fast food restaurants concessions to run their canteens, play a major role in the obesity problem.

“Already, Jamaica has one of the fastest-growing rates of obesity in the world, at an average of one per cent of the population becoming overweight or obese every year over the last 10 years, and we are only worsening this by exposing children to poor eating habits from an early age, at a time when they are forming habits that they will take with them throughout adulthood,” Dr Dawes said.

“Obese children,” he argued, “have a higher risk of being obese in adulthood and a higher rate of developing diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle diseases. We are creating a medium- to long-term crisis if we don't target children with our interventions.”

Dr Dawes, of course, is correct, and the problem is exacerbated by the sedentary lifestyle of too many of our children who spend more time using modern communication technology and playing computer games, than engaging in physical activity.

The education and health ministries, we note, have decided to roll out a nutritional guidelines policy in schools which, according to Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid, will insist that nutritional characteristics as well as recommended servings of meals and products sold are displayed in canteens, so that students can make informed decisions.

Senator Reid also said he supports the health ministry's call for mandatory sports in schools in an effort to increase physical activity to curb issues of overweight children and obesity.

Both initiatives make perfect sense and should be supported by schools, parents and the general public. At the same time, Jamaicans should heed and act on the observation by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton that the survey indicates clearly that more must be done to address both physical inactivity and consumption habits among the younger population.

A good place to start is in our homes.

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