Cayman Sports Ministry looks at ways to keep youth healthy

During their current Australia visit, Cayman’s Sports Ministry officials will participate in an examination of the Commonwealth Institute’s new ‘Lifestyle of our Kids’ (LOOK) project, according to Government Information Services press release.

A detailed investigation into the ways that lifestyles affect children’s health and development, the project commenced in October 2005 in various Commonwealth countries.

The findings will be shared upon the officials’ return with a view to identifying measures which will benefit youngsters locally.

To continue throughout a four-year period, the LOOK project involves primary school children and monitors many health indicators, specifically early symptoms of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, bone health, immuno-competence, psychological problems, posture and coordination. The project also alerts people to the risks entailed in inactive living, now ranked alongside poor nutrition and smoking, as the greatest modifiable threat to personal health.

According to LOOK research, the number of children’s health problems associated with unproductive lifestyles can now almost be described as reaching epidemic proportions. Together with poor nutrition and psychological stress, a lack of physical activity in children’s lifestyles may contribute to the development of many non-communicable diseases encountered in later life. The LOOK document states: ‘One of the obvious effects of inadequate physical activity and poor nutritional choices is the climbing incidence of overweight and obesity in our youngsters.’

Consequences associated with inactivity in many children’s lives are so prevalent that the World Health Organization (WHO) refers to a possible ‘Physical Activity Deprivation Syndrome’ (PADS).

The Ministry’s participation in the LOOK examination will provide useful insight into how these issues affect Cayman’s youth, as well as some direction for potential solutions. With responsibilities for Youth, Sports and Education, the Ministry is ideally positioned to integrate initiatives across all three areas of local society in order to maximize the positive impact of measures taken.

Three questions which current research seeks to answer are: ‘Can lifestyle choices, even those in primary school, affect the current health of our kids?’; ‘Is it possible that lifestyle choices in the formative years can set the pattern for health throughout adulthood?’ and, ‘Is provision of special movement education worth the effort with our growing children?’

This initial four-year study will follow the effects of movement, education and general physical activity in children from seven years of age through to early adolescence and into adulthood. The research will measure the physical activity levels and nutritional intake of 1,000 children, carefully monitoring a wide range of markers, embracing bone and metabolic and cardiovascular health, as well as psycho-social well-being and body movement efficiency.

It is hoped that the study will help determine how important childhood lifestyles and activity are to lifelong health.

The need for research into lifestyles and non-communicable disease is based on widely publicized WHO findings that regular physical exercise, good nutrition and a happy existence are important contributors to ongoing physical and psychological well-being in adults. The WHO has also estimated that physical inactivity alone causes 2 million deaths each year globally, simply because more than half of all adults fail to participate sufficiently in physical activity.

The LOOK project also aims to investigate the influence of the quality of physical activity by introducing a special physical activity program to half the schools in the study over the four year period. Trained teachers will visit schools, conduct lessons and provide all the equipment free of charge.

The first major data collection period will be completed in December 2006. Data collection periods will continue through 2009, following which final reports and papers will be written in 2010. A 50 year ‘Follow-up Invitation to the Lifestyle of our Adults’ study is also planned.

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