With 46 per cent of the school-aged population in Barbados either overweight or obese, the National Nutrition Centre has published new guidelines aimed at changing the eating habits of children and encouraging more physical activity.
The publication, entitled Nutritious and Healthy Foods in Schools ??? Nutritional and Practical Guidelines for Barbados, targets policy makers, health professionals, school administrators, canteen operators and parents.
It provides clear, evidence-based information about the relationship between good nutrition, physical activity and the impact on the health and development of children and young people. It is accompanied by a 2016 Nutrition and Health Calendar which provides information and advice on nutritious and healthy foods for children.
Acting Chief Nutrition Officer, Dr. Mark Alleyne, made it clear that the new guidelines would only be effective if there was a collaborative effort between stakeholders, including the Ministries of Health and Education, school principals and schools??? Boards of Management.
These stakeholders needed to develop policies, he said, which would support the recommendations in the guidelines and which should include specific criteria to be met by schools??? canteen operators to provide only nutritious and healthy lunches and snacks to children.
Stressing that the success of the recommendations would depend on these policies, he advised that once the policies were enacted, there needed to be some provision for school canteens to be policed in order to ensure compliance. Dr. Alleyne submitted that the sale of unhealthy foods on school premises for fund-raising should also be strongly discouraged.
The Nutrition Centre had designed a handbook, to be printed and disseminated shortly, for secondary schools??? canteen operators with practical suggestions for the implementation of the recommendations.
PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Dr. Godfrey Xuereb, welcomed the new guidelines, stating that schools were the best vehicles to carry the message and facilitate behavioural change.
He noted that according to the 1981 National Health and Nutrition Survey for Barbados, 29 per cent of children under the age of five were at that time malnourished, with 20 per cent of female adolescents, aged 10 to 19, classified as overweight.
By 2010, the prevalence of overweight and obesity rose to 32 per cent for boys and 37 per cent for girls, and by 2011, the World Health Organization???s Global School-Based Student Health Survey showed that 46 per cent of children in Barbados were either overweight or obese, with boys and girls having similar statistics.
He explained: ???So, in a period of 35 years, or one generation, Barbados has moved from an island where a third of the children are malnourished to almost four in every 10 adolescents being overweight or obese.???
Dr. Xuereb also referred to the Barbados Food Consumption and Anthropometric Survey 2000, which showed that sugar intake in Barbados exceeded the Caribbean recommendation by almost four-fold, with sweetened drinks and juices providing more than 40 per cent of total sugar intake.
The Global School-Based Student Health Survey 2011 also revealed that more than 73 per cent of students drink carbonated soft drinks one or more times per day, and only one-third of students met the recommendations of physical activity for health.
Dr. Xuereb said it was important to note that 84 per cent of total deaths in Barbados were attributed to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer, all diseases linked to dietary and physical activity behaviours.
???The latest WHO data shows that there is a 14 per cent probability of dying between the ages of 30 and 70 from these diseases. This means that 14 out of every 100 of the productive adult population of this country will not see their 70th birthday.
???These are alarming statistics. This is the consequence of our obesity problem. This is a consequence of our overeating, unbalanced diet and physical inactivity,??? he submitted.
The PAHO/WHO Representative congratulated the Ministry of Health on the new initiative ???which will now ensure that the healthy choices are the easy choices for schoolchildren???.?????I hope that it will also help them learn that this is the way to a healthy lifestyle and a life free of non-communicable diseases,??? he added.