Taskforce to battle child obesity

Children starting their first year at the George Hicks schools will be monitored over the next three years as part of a pilot programme by a new health taskforce to tackle child obesity.

Physical education teachers will weigh, measure and check the body mass index of the children in the coming weeks to establish a baseline and the progress of the children will be checked on a regular basis.

Generali Worldwide Insurance’s Maureen Cubbon, the programme coordinator of the Children’s Health Task Force, said the pilot programme would target children who are still young enough to be influenced on the choice of foods and the activities in which they partake.

“We’re concentrating on Year 7 students. We want to be able to have measurable results within a few years that we can bring back to the ministries [of health and education],” Ms Cubbon said.

A 2007 study showed that 22 per cent of children entering the school system in Grand Cayman were obese.

The increasing problem of obesity among schoolchildren was tragically highlighted earlier this year by the death of a 13-year-old boy who weighed 300lbs.

The statistics for this year’s new intake of about 400 Year 7 students, aged 11 and 12, are still being collated, but the progress of these children over the next few years will give health professionals and the government a picture of what over-eating, eating unhealthy foods and a lack of exercise is doing to kids and how programmes of increased activity and healthier eating can help them.

If it proves effective, the pilot programme will be replicated in all schools in Cayman, according to the Minister of Education Rolston Anglin.

He said the object of the programme was to ‘to focus on promoting and supporting healthy lifestyles for all children in schools and in the community through the creation of a nurturing environment, providing education on healthy eating and supporting opportunities for enjoyable physical activity.’

The taskforce plans to help improve the nutritional services of George Hicks; increase physical activity of students; improve the knowledge and skills of teachers, parents and students with regard healthier lifestyles; and establish a programme that can be used in all schools.

“Over the last several years, many businesses and organisations have been working on and implemented a variety of children’s health programs and initiatives which have been successful,” Ms Cubbon said. “For the first time, a collaborative effort is being made to address this problem holistically and comprehensively by joining forces.”

No changes have yet been made to the George Hicks canteen, Ms Cubbon admitted, because canteen staff were too busy on the hectic first week of school last week.

“We know the canteen team are willing to work with us to make a positive change, and that’s very, very good,” said Ms Cubbon, who said the taskforce members would meet soon with the school and canteen staff.

The school’s campus director Lyneth Montieth said the aim would be make small changes to the menu, adding vegetables to meat dishes and using baking instead of frying, for example.

‘We’re not necessarily going to change what is being offered, but we’ll look at how the food is prepared, the method of cooking and changing little things to make it healthier,’ she said.

As well as offering the usual sporting activities such as netball, baseball or football, the school will also look at activities the children are interested in.

‘We’ll consult with the school councils. Through interaction and input from the children, in the form of meetings and questionnaires, we’ll take note of what they’re interested in. For example, last year we had salsa dancing,’ Ms Monthieh said.

Partners in the Children’s Health Task Force include Rotary Sunrise Grand Cayman; Cayman Heart Fund; Generali Worldwide; TrinCay Medical; BodySculptor; and the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.

The core team of the project consists of doctors, nutritionists, nurses, health experts and community advocates for the betterment of health of the youth of Cayman.

‘Teaching our children the value of preventative health care is no doubt a worthwhile investment in the future. Living well ensures healthier individuals, and ultimately curbs a nation’s health care costs,’ said Minister of Health Mark Scotland.

For more information about the Children’s Health Task Force, please contact Maureen Cubbon at [email protected].