Olympians join fight on childhood obesity

With childhood obesity reaching worrying levels in the Cayman Islands, promoters of a programme that involves Olympian athletes encouraging physical activities among young school-going kids hope their walking challenge will spread to more local schools.

Four schools – Red Bay, Prospect and Sir John A. Cumber primary schools on Grand Cayman and Creek and Spot Bay Primary on Cayman Brac – took part in a six-week World Fit Walk from May this year.

The programme involves primary schoolchildren logging how far they walk each day over six weeks. In the World Fit Walk, schools aim to find 40 minutes of walking time each school day over a period of 40 consecutive days. During this time, students log and track their miles on the World Fit website.

“Our goal is to try to get all of the primary and middle schools in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac to participate in the World Fit Walk,” said Gary Hall, former Olympian swimmer and executive director of the World Fit Foundation.

“Our goal is to add about five new schools [in Cayman] for 2014 and enlist some new corporate partners to create more World Fit Buddy Teams among them,” he added.

The idea behind the programme is that six weeks of sustained exercise is enough time to form a habit and, once the 40 days are over, it is likely that students will sustain this activity, as well adopt a healthy active lifestyle.

In all, 120 students in Cayman received certificates for taking part in the programme this year and the top 25 received medals.

“Our hope is to eradicate childhood obesity in the Cayman Islands. Children should not be obese and we hope to instil a culture of fitness that will remain with them for life,” Dr. Hall said.

A third of children entering primary school in the Cayman Islands are obese or overweight, according to screenings of new pupils done by the Cayman Islands Public Health Department. Of 530 children, the majority of whom were ages 4 to 6, entering schools in September last year, 92, or 17.4 per cent were obese, and 86, or 16 per cent were overweight.

The World Fit Foundation began with the United States Olympians Association’s desire to use the approximately 8,000 Olympians and Paralympians living in the US to try to make a difference in the epidemic of childhood obesity in America.

Dr. Hall said Olympian swimmers Brett and Shaune Fraser were involved in the programme in Cayman, but had not had an opportunity to visit the four schools participating. Australian open water swimmer Penny Palfrey visited the Creek and Spot Bay in the Brac to meet the children and to promote fitness among the students.

As a physician and an officer of the US Olympians Association, Dr. Hall was given the task of developing a fitness programme directed at schools. After nearly two years of programme design, collaborating with the Miami-Dade Public School District, the World Fit Walk was inaugurated in spring 2009.

Dr. Hall’s connection with Cayman and his desire to spread the World Fit message to here, started when he first visited Cayman three years ago to take part in the Flowers Sea Swim. He has attended the popular swimming event each year since then.

In the US, 80 schools participate in the Walk Fit programme, with nearly 33,000 students logging just under two million miles in the six-week walk.

The group has also had interest from Singapore and Nepal, said Dr. Hall, who added that World Fit plans to start in a European Union country next year, “either UK, Ireland or Belgium”.

“The Olympians are powerful role models for exercise, fitness and good health, so we are grateful to the Cayman Olympians and the Cayman Olympic Committee for participating and to Mr. Frank Flowers who helped us start the World Fit Walk Cayman Islands. I would also like to thank the Dart Foundation, Cayman Airways and Comfort Suites for their support of the World Fit Walk Caymans in 2014,” Dr. Hall said.

Dr. Hall, a retired ophthalmologist, won Olympic medals for swimming in Mexico City in 1968, Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976.

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