Cayman is facing a childhood obesity crisis that could cripple its healthcare system.
That’s the assessment of childhood weight management expert, Dr. Pedro Reimon, who said Saturday he has been ‘shocked’ by what he has seen in Cayman’s schools.
‘What I saw in the schools were not kids that are a little bit overweight, but kids that are really obese or morbidly obese,’ he said. ‘Morbidly obese means you can die.
‘You have a major crisis here in Cayman, which will become worse and worse in the years to come.’
Mr. Reimon, who runs a childhood weight management clinic in Miami, was speaking Saturday at the Cayman Heart Fund’s Heart Health Fair, following visits to schools on Grand Cayman last week.
He told the crowd at the Family Life Centre the amount of fatty foods available in school canteens has to change.
‘We have to get rid of all of that junk food in the school system. They are eating all the wrong foods. They need to be made healthier.’
Education Minister Alden McLaughlin acknowledged in 2007 that some of the food being served up at Cayman’s public schools is not up to scratch but he has warned that administrators need the support of parents to make healthier menus.
When administrators tried to replace heavy food for healthy food at Cayman Brac High School in 2007, parents caused a fuss, leading to a back flip, he explained.
Mr. Reimon called for more exercise in Cayman’s schools, particularly in the public system, where the curriculum calls for as little as one hour of sport per week.
Health Minister Anthony Eden, who was on hand for the presentation, acknowledged that more needs to be done about diet and exercise in schools.
‘We are starting to look at the diets. A lot of children eat their lunches at school, so we need to change their diets to make sure they actually ban the soft drink and improve what they eat,’ he said.
Acknowledging students aren’t doing enough activity in school, he said ‘We have to make sure they get that exercise daily.’
Mr. Reimon sought to dispel any myths parents may have about children simply carrying ‘puppy fat’ that they will outgrow. He warned that overweight kids become obese adults.
He noted studies in the US have found that 14 per cent of overweight infants become obese adults and three-quarters of children that are overweight by age 12 go on to be obese adults.
Describing the situation as a time bomb, Mr. Reimon said obese kids will carry more than just weight with them into adulthood – they will be at a greater risk of developing life-threatening conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.
The affect on heart disease – already Cayman’s number one killer – could be staggering, he warned.
He predicted diabetes rates will continue to skyrocket so long as child obesity rates continue to rise.
‘That is going to kill a lot of people,’ he said.
‘In the past, we didn’t see (diabetes) in people before age 40. Now we are seeing it in 10-year-olds.
‘With kids developing this disease this early, what is going to happen is, when they are 20 or 30 years old, we might have a generation of kids that are going to be blind,’ he said.
Mr. Reimon predicted more and more people will be forced onto dialysis machines because their kidneys fail.
‘Do you know what it is like to be on dialysis when you are 20 or 30,’ he asked, adding dialysis used to be something only old people required.
Studies in the US show overweight and obese kids a young as five are developing heart problems, Mr. Reimon noted. ‘At age five! That is really serious.’
Mr. Reimon’s warning comes after recent Health Services Authority reports have painted a grim picture about childhood obesity in the Cayman Islands.
A 2007 HSA study described the situation as ‘alarming’, after it found almost half of the children entering the school system in the Cayman Islands were overweight or obese.
The study, carried out by former HSA research coordinator Laurence Vanhanswijck, said rates of obesity here were roughly double that of the US.