EDITORIAL: Obesity needs urgent attention
BARBADOS HAS RECORDED remarkable achievements in health care over the past two generations. We have proudly witnessed a decrease in childhood mortality through enhanced access to medicines and vaccines. There has been a significant decline in smoking while there has been major success in stamping out risky behaviour that can lead to HIV and AIDS.
Yet we have been recording a steady increase in the incidence of obesity on the island. It is a worrisome situation amongst adults but can only be considered a national disaster, given its prevalence among our children. This is a health threat to which we must give urgent attention.
The problem starts in the home. It is then supplemented by what is served for school meals at the primary level and reinforced by what is available at most secondary schools, whether in the canteens or outside their gates. Then there is the fast foods, the high-sugar and caloric beverages and of course excessive use of salt.
The situation is alarming but not unstoppable.
With chancellor for the University of the West Indies, Sir George Alleyne, having highlighted the threat last weekend during the Cave Hill Campus’ annual graduation exercise, hopefully his words will reverberate across this landscape. Not only must the UWI get involved, but so too in a meaningful way must the Ministries of Health and Education, as well as teachers.
But it will come down to parents and guardians who must make a difference. They must be good role models by leading healthy lifestyles. This will mean healthy eating and participating in regular physical activity. They must insist on healthier menu options for their children both at school and at home. Stupid excuses must not be advanced to allow children to avoid physical exercise while at school.
The same emphasis which the teachers’ unions and the National Council Of Parent-Teacher Associations place on a range of issues that negatively impact education must be placed on this area. And this is the ideal time to launch such an initiative – Education Month. It would allow the country to measure the results of such efforts within the next 12 months.
The anti-obesity effort will certainly need some nationally recognised and accepted faces to champion this cause.
The effort to institute this important change will face some push-back from those who may feel no one should dictate what their children should eat; or for that matter what the food vendors and fast food outlets should sell.
But this situation speaks to a health crisis and our children are at greatest risk.
Barbadians as a people know when to unite to achieve an objective, and there is no better cause than the effort to curtail this rampant disease which is rapidly consuming us. It has serious implications for the country’s economic development and the people’s physical well-being.