Editorial July 15: Eat less, move more

A generation of children in the Cayman Islands could be the ones to help bankrupt the country in the future unless steps are taken immediately to get them healthy.

Testing done on 530 schoolchildren ages 4 and 6 found that 92, or 17.4 per cent were obese, and 86, or 16 per cent were overweight.
The figures – both numerically and the shape of our children – are alarming.

Not only do these children face certain health problems in the future, they may be stigmatised socially as classmates and bullies make fun of them or refuse to invite them on dates or social gatherings.

Once a child turns 10 and is overweight, there is an 80 per cent chance of that child becoming an overweight adult, which means that if they can’t afford their own healthcare, they will become a burden to the state. The Cayman Islands government already pays more than $90 million a year on healthcare.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis. Diabetes and heart disease are the two biggest killers of people in the Cayman Islands.

Obesity is associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, oesophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to the CDC. Those are the long-term healthcare risks.

For the immediate risks, obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, are more likely to have pre-diabetes and are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological problems such as stigmatisation and poor self-esteem.

The problem of overweight children isn’t just about food; it’s a combination of inactivity, poor sleep, diet and education; both on the part of the children and their caregivers.

The good news is that government is getting the information on obese and overweight children while they are still young. Already there has been a drop – although slight – in the obesity and overweight figures of students ages 10 to 13.

While many would want to put the blame on the school system, many of the children tested are just entering the system, so their weight issues have occurred at home.

Parents must take control of the amount of physical activity that their children engage in, as well as offer proper nutrition without fatty snacks and sugary juices and making sure kids get the right amount of sleep on a daily basis.

But once children do enter school, what they consume while there does become a factor.

In many cases, being overweight or obese is a generational problem, but it’s one that has to stop.

If we don’t put an end to childhood obesity, we’ll be raising a generation of children who could eat our country into impoverishment through medical expenses.

Famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri has a simple prescription for anyone of any age seeking to lose weight: “Eat less, move more!”