Task force works to tackle child obesity

Two thirds of Year 7 students at
George Hicks Campus identified as having the highest body mass index of their
peers at the start of this school year are participating in a special health
programme.

The children are taking part in a
pilot programme launched by the Children’s Health Task Force.

“The CHTF team is very pleased with
the progress of the programme to date,” said Maureen Cubbon, one of the programme
coordinators. “We had a good plan of action and with the support and help of
the George Hicks Campus teachers and students, we have seen some measurable
results and are really excited to finish the school year off well.”

Originally, 175 children were
indentified in the Year 7 class in the 85 per cent and 95 per cent percentile
of Body Mass Index, of which 116 children are actively involved in the
programme – a 66 per cent uptake.

Task force members said this was an
“excellent” uptake for a new programme. Other students have also been accepted
into the programme as they were identified through the school year as having
high BMIs.

Students name project

The students at George Hicks have helped
name the programme “Health4Youth”. That title and logo were recently unveiled
and will be used for future promotion of the programme.

The need for such a task force and
other programmes to implement healthy eating and lifestyle education for
Cayman’s young people was highlighted last week with the release of a report
from World Health Organisation researchers who found that out of children
surveyed in 34 countries worldwide, Cayman’s kids aged between 13 and 15 were
among the most sedentary in the world.

“The study published recently
revealing that Cayman’s young teens are the most inactive among a sampling of
34 countries in the world did catch me very much by surprise,” said Ms Cubbon.

“I assumed the USA, Canada and
other nations were included in this survey and therefore meant that the
statistics for Cayman were higher than those countries. Despite the report not
including countries where childhood obesity is high, having topped the survey
is very concerning as children’s obesity rates in the Cayman Islands is on the
rise.”

She added: “The myriad of health issues
associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices for children is frightening – life
and death in some cases – and threatens the health and future of the youth in
the Cayman Islands.”

Counsellor at school

The task force has selected counsellor
Thinn Aung, who has extensive experience working with school children, to be
its “person on the ground” at the George Hicks school, explained Dr. Sook Yin, medical
director and ministry liaison of the Children’s Health Task Force, which is
mostly made up of volunteers, all of whom have full-time jobs.

“We realised that we needed a
person on the ground at George Hicks daily to coordinate and synchronise all
the efforts of the nutritionists, exercise specialists, life skill teachers and
the participating doctors in order to maximise participation in this pilot
programme,” she said.

“[Ms Aung] will now be able to
start some group counselling sessions with some of the participants, as behaviour
modification is one of the key components in our holistic approach in tackling
the childhood obesity problem in the Cayman Islands,” Dr. Yin added.

The task force was created last
year by the Cayman Heart Fund, Generali Worldwide, Rotary Sunrise, Cayman
Islands Health Services Authority, TrinCay Medical and BodySculptor.

Health minister Mark Scotland
earlier this month presented a cheque to help fund the pilot scheme, and
described the obesity problem among children as “a grave national concern”
which could impact the Islands’ development by increasing health care costs and
incapacitating the future workforce.

“Government is committed to being
proactive in dealing with childhood obesity before it becomes an unmanageable
national crisis here” he added. 

“Alarming” data

Dr. Yin noted that recent child
obesity data from the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority was alarming.
“Annual screening confirms that some 22 percent of school children are
overweight and another 14.8 percent are at risk of becoming overweight,” she
said.

In 1987, 18.8 per cent of children
aged between three and seven were already obese when entering the school system,
and that figure had risen to 45 per cent by 2005, Dr. Yin said.

“Children and adolescents who are
overweight are more likely to be obese adults. Given that obesity in adults is
associated with increased risks of premature death, heart disease, Type 2
diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, osteoarthritis, and many other
health problems, it is critical that we prevent obesity and overweight in
childhood, before the onset of such chronic problems,” she said.

The task force plans to replicate
the pilot programmes at George Hicks across schools in Cayman.

No national food policy

Part of its work is identifying and
changing the eating habits of Cayman’s school children. To that end, canteen
changes have been implemented at George Hicks, leading to the task force
addressing the lack of a national food policy in Cayman’s schools.

“Up to now, Cayman has no
guidelines or food policy of what canteens in schools here can serve or cannot
serve. As more than 95 per cent of young people are enrolled at schools and
they eat at least two meals daily in the canteens, our task force is working
with the Department of Education and the Ministries of Health and Education, along
with the Department of Children and Family Services, to create a national food policy
for school canteens and set minimum standards for school meals for different
age groups,” said Dr. Yin.

She said the task force had a working
draft advising that nourishing food be served more frequently and defining the
types of food which are no longer allowed or are restricted in order to replace
food high in fat, sugar and salt with more nutritious foods and drinks.

“The relevant departments are
giving us the input and we hope that by the next school year we will have some
of this in place to put forward to the Canteen Tendering Committee. As
America’s First Lady has launched their Let’s Move Programme to battle
childhood obesity in US in February 2010, I am pleased to say that the CHTF,
together with our Ministries of Health and Education had already set the ball
rolling here in Cayman with our Health4Youth programme,” she said.

Throughout the year, task force
members have met with parents and teachers at PTA meetings to help educate them
about healthy lifestyle choices for their children, and themselves.

The work of the task force is
sponsored by Walkers Global and Walkers Charitable Foundation, Cayman Heart
Fund, Rotary Sunrise, Rotary Grand Cayman, Pink Ladies, Lions Club Tropical
Gardens, The Ministry of Health and The Ministry of Education.

The group is also continuing to
look for more sponsorship.

For information on the Health4Youth
Program, contact Maureen Cubbon at Generali Worldwide: 747-2002 or [email protected] or Dr. Sook Yin
at: l [email protected] or
516-1237.

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