The Caribbean has one of the highest rates of obesity in children and adults in the world.

To this end, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is working on a multi-level programme designed to promote healthy weight and reverse the scourge of childhood obesity in the region.

CARPHA???s Director of Research, Training and Policy Development, Dr. Donald Simeon, said recent studies throughout the Caribbean showed that 20-35 per cent of adolescents were either overweight or obese, with obesity accounting for as much as 15 per cent.

He was speaking at the conclusion of a recent three-day planning workshop in Trinidad where decision makers from 21 countries across the region, in addition to health agencies such as the Pan American Health Organization, discussed strategies for addressing critical public health issues affecting the region.

Dr. Simeon explained that childhood obesity was due to poor diet and lack of physical activity. He said he was particularly concerned about the low intakes of fruits and vegetables and high levels of consumption of carbonated beverages by school children. The director blamed this not on individual behaviour but on obesogenic environments.

The multi-sectoral programme will borrow from a model that was used in Northern France which was successful in changing the lifestyles of children and led to sustained decreases in childhood obesity in that region.

Dr. Simeon said the French model had been identified as a unique best practice in the management of childhood obesity. He pointed out that it was not only sustainable but it utilised an approach that included participation from policy makers as well as communities, schools and families. He, however, cautioned that results would not occur overnight, adding that there needed to be significant support and investment from both the public and private sectors for the programme to be successful.

Countries including St. Kitts and Nevis and Haiti shared some of the challenges they were facing with obesity. Chief Medical Officer of St. Kitts, Dr. Patrick Martin, disclosed that 45 per cent of adults and 15 per cent of children were obese in his country, while Haiti???s Technical Advisor in the Director General???s Office, Dr. Lourdes Marie Belotte, said her country was also grappling with the growing problem of obesity and NCDs and needed assistance in the areas of health promotion and prevention so that Haiti could avoid some of the problems other countries have faced.

Barbados??? Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, who also attended the workshop, stated that within the global monitoring framework for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), CARPHA was the only public health institution in the region with the capacity for surveillance. However, she indicated the need for that ability to be strengthened to ensure the achievement of the agency???s goal of 25 per cent reduction in mortality from avoidable NCDs by 2025.

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