Health Task Force Tackles Obesity

 Calling childhood obesity in Cayman an absolute epidemic, members of the Children’s Health Task Force have   launched a pilot programme designed to fight this growing problem.

After months and countless hours of planning and educating meetings, the two main aspects, the nutritional and afterschool programmes are expected to kick off within the next month.

Working with George Hicks school officials, Health service authority dieticians and the school nurse, approximately 100 students have been identified as being obese based on their body mass index.

But how many will actually benefit from this multifaceted programme is still left to be seen; so far only 45 per cent of the targeted students have turned in permission slips allowing them to participate in the nutrition programme, and 56 students  for the afterschool programme.

“The parents are a key part of this process and that is one of the most challenging parts of the process” says Maureen Cubbon, the Children’s Health task force coordinator.

She says the team has spoken with parents several times informing them of the programme at school meetings, explaining what they are doing and why, and handing out information on the negative effects obesity and unhealthy lifestyles has on a child.

The task force is appealing to all parents to seriously consider and participate in the programme. Members of the task force will be contacting parents in the coming weeks and hopefully will have many more participants in the program.

Says Cubbon: “We have to try and change a cultural and global mindset when it comes to health and wellness, particularly in children. It can no longer be acceptable to lead a sedentary lifestyle and we can see the direct consequences of unhealthy lifestyles in our youth today. This is not an easy task, but we are going to influence the George Hicks Campus and hope that those practices will be carried on at home.” When you consider the number of people that have come together, certified nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, counsellors and then take into account it costs absolutely nothing for students to participate in the programme, it is hard to understand why all students would not take this into consideration and jump at this opportunity but parents’ blessing, support and participation are key in the success of this programme.

It’s all about image
The reason for urgency is in the numbers.

Based on the information from annual HSA health screenings of entry level kids and students entering middle school,   22 per cent of school children are obese and nearly 15 per cent are at risk of becoming overweight. This means 37 per cent of children at school entry level were either obese or overweight.

Those numbers paint a disturbing picture of what you can find on our school campuses, one that officials at George Hicks decided was time to change.

The Campus manager, Miss Lyneth Monteith contacted Dr. Cridland with the Cayman Heart Fund who also is a member of the task force to discuss the alarming problem of obesity on the campus and what could be done.

Year 7 students were chosen, because they are still young enough to influence and it was a good age to follow for a few years, and also represent a good cross section of students from all districts in Grand Cayman.

It’s also a very susceptible age, these 11 and 12 year olds are making a big transition Cubbon says image is a very big part of it.

Health implications aside, bullying, eating disorders, emotional issues are just a few of the things children face says  Cubbon adding “there of course is a sensitivity element when addressing a child who is overweight or obese,  but as a parent we are hoping to empower and give tools to allow at home success to support the school programme.”

Acknowledging that the task force also has a responsibility to these students, she says the identified kids are not being signalled out, or pulled out of class.

Instead, the task force is going into the classrooms working closely with the life skills and other programmes where not only are they reaching out to the red flag students but possibly touching others as well.

During the lunch sessions, the nutritionist and psychologist will work with the group at their scheduled lunch break, so they will be eating with the rest of their school, so the group sessions will draw as little attention as possible.

The same is true about the afterschool circuit training programme that all students can and are encouraged to take part in.

Cubbon says the goal of programme is not to draw attention to the participants; rather it’s to get to the bottom of the issue and provide them with the best tools possible to start making finite decisions about their health and wellness.

The message appears to be getting through to the kids; Cubbon says the students are all very excited about starting the circuit training and about the changes at the canteen.

Canteen changes
Working with the school canteen has been an education in itself.

It’s not a government tendered canteen; but ran by the Home School Association. The task force members have been working with the owners to find out how they can replace the unhealthy and fried foods and other items with healthier choices. There are immediate changes that can be done, and long term changes that are being outlined.

George Hicks students won’t be the only ones that see the benefits, through their work with the canteen the task force has drafted a national food policy that is being reviewed by a variety of government entities hopefully in the near future.

A few of the recommendations include making fruits and vegetables available, replacing high fat and sugary drinks with healthier options, and restricting unhealthy food choices.  It’s a milestone that the task force was able to push through once Government and ministry pledged their full support to the team and programme giving the task force more power.

Cubbon says that also means they have more accountability to the Government, students, parents, teachers, and sponsors, but she feels that it is a task that the dynamic task force can tackle and be successful at.  “The goal is to take this to a national level and hopefully have some standards in place to apply to all schools in Cayman. We will also have some very real statics on how such a program affects students, parents and teachers, and we can see measured results of the successes and areas of improvements.”

Obesity follows children into adulthood

The implications of a reported 37 percent of school entry children as either obese or at risk of obesity could have a far reaching for the country.

In the Cayman Islands Hospital clinic, paediatrician Dr. Earl Robinson noted that obese children are having medical problems. There is an increase of type 2 diabetes, especially in adolescents. More children have high cholesterol. He is also seeing more children with asthma and breathing problems and sleeping apnea. There are more children having problems with their hips and legs, which in turn, affects their mobility.

Furthermore, problems with childhood obesity and being overweight children are likely to follow them into adulthood with all the underlying health problems.

In adulthood, there is an increased risk for angina and heart attacks going. There is also an increased liver and gall bladder disease from obesity that started from childhood and many forms of cancer including breast, uterus and colon cancer. Dealing with illnesses in the adult’s working life could have a long term impact on the economy from missing work or being unable to work.

Robinson said the economic impact could be considerable, both during childhood and into adulthood.

“A nation that is less healthy is a nation that is less productive,” says Robinson.