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Sweet and high

Matthew Farley

Sweet and high

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Illegal drugs are a waste of time. They destroy our memory and your self-respect and all that goes along with your self-esteem. – Kurt Cobain
There are two major problems confronting school-aged children in Barbados. The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the first Diabetic Specialist Centre at Warrens provides a good opportunity for us as a nation to focus on the extent to which our children are at severe risk by virtue of poor nutrition and bad eating habits.
The late Carmeta Fraser used to declare: “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow!” While our children are versed and equipped with the latest gadgets and technology and are present on the social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are ignorant to the dangers and risks to which they expose themselves by their eating habits.
Last Thursday’s Daily Nation tells a story that should concern all of us as a country. The chairman of the Barbados Diabetes Foundation, Dr Oscar Jordan,  revealed that “more and more children are coming down with diabetes”. He indicated that bad eating habits and lack of exercise were the main contributors to this growing trend which has emerged over the past decade.
As he sees it, “we have to look at how we are feeding our children and how we encourage them to exercise”. Dr Jordan goes further and warns that if the trend does not turn around and turn around now, it can have a serious impact not only on the country’s health system, but also on the economy.
Minister of Health Donville Inniss pointed out that an estimated 17 per cent of Barbadians 40 years and over were living with diabetes.
The economy is being drained as we spend $75 million annually treating diabetes. A stunning statistic is his reference to the fact that we spend $5 000 per month providing dialysis treatment.
The costs skyrocket when they relate to long-term complications of diabetes, including cardiovascular disease, renal failure, amputations, blindness and ultimately the loss of human capital and of productivity.
Even a cursory glance at the eating habits of our children reveals how parents are aiding and abetting in killing their children by virtue of the poor dietary practices and their failure to promote exercise as a viable option for good health.
Breaking the fast The current youth cohorts do not take breakfast in the sense that I did when I was a boy. Even though my breakfast was limited to a cup of “cocoa tea” or “green tea” or sometimes “chocolate” – and in leaner times some “ginger tea” – along with bakes or roast corn, my grandparents understood the importance of “breaking the fast”.
In fact, research has shown that children who take breakfast do better academically than those whose brains are still asleep while they are at school because of the absence of the first meal of the day.
It gets worse. In addition to not having a healthy breakfast, their daily meals are deficient – high dye content, as evident in their snacks, heavy carbohydrate levels, and little or no vegetable intake.
Even though there is a national emphasis on healthy eating of potatoes, cassava and other ground provisions, many young people are heard to say: “I don’t eat that kind of food.”
As a consequence, we see scores of schoolchildren on our streets who are overweight. Their obesity remains a burden on the national purse. Their sweetness is of a kind that threatens to undermine the future health of our country.
But our children are not only “dangerously sweet” but their health is at further risk when we consider the level of abuse of illegal drugs that leaves many of them “flying high”.
In this state of mind, many of them are exposing teachers and their peers to a level of aggression and violence that concerns all principals and teachers, who often must confront mainly young males – and occasionally a few females – who are like time bombs waiting for any trigger.
What is even more worrisome is that we seem to be losing the battle against illegal drugs, especially since the lobby in support of the legalization of marijuana is gaining momentum.
Educational practitioners are in a spot of bother as to how to deal with students, some of whom are “sweet” and obese as well as “high” and removed from the reality of what is happening in their lives, both at home and at school.
When the twin problems of diabetes and the abuse of illegal drugs – which have many of our youth in their clutches – are tackled in a coordinated manner, our human resource prospects will be rescued from the severe risk to which it is currently exposed.
• Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and social commentator. Email [email protected]