The rate of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Barbados is set to rise in the future, if nothing is done to curb the poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles of many of this island’s children.

Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, said that while some NCDs did not typically occur in children, there were risk factors that could predispose them to developing the diseases later on in life.

She was speaking at the press launch of the first National Children’s Conference on Non-Communicable Diseases held yesterday, at the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, Pine, St. Michael, at 10 a.m.?? It was the launching pad for the Kids’ Community Health Club, an initiative that will be started in communities across the island. The club will seek to work with children at the community level, in an effort to build strong, healthy communities through education, nutrition and agriculture.

The conference is aimed at providing a forum for the children to air their views on the health issues affecting them and their society – to form their own lobby groups in schools and the community; provide them with a platform and first-hand information so they can network with their peers; measuring and assessing how they can contribute to the nation’s heath situation; and be a part of the change that is needed to take place by becoming "game-changers", through the prevention and reversal of non-communicable diseases; and to compile and make a commitment on a National Children’s and Youth Declaration on NCDs.

Senator Sandiford-Garner said obesity was a precursor to developing NCDs and could be considered a non-communicable disease in itself. She noted that asthma, the most common chronic condition seen in Barbados’ children, was also categorised by some organisations as an NCD.

She noted that the National Asthma and Allergy Study, Phase 3, which was conducted from October 2000 to March 2001, found that prevalence of asthma was 19.5 per cent in six to seven year-olds, and 20.8 per cent in 13 to 14 year-olds. This compares to a previous study done in 1973, which reported a prevalence rate of 1.06 per cent for children ages five to 15 years of age. Furthermore, the 2000/2001 study found that the six to seven year-old age group had the sixth highest prevalence of asthma out of the 38 countries that participated in the study.

Citing figures from The Adolescent Health and Fitness Study, conducted by the Chronic Disease Research Centre in 1999/2000, where 462 students, ages 10 to18 years, were surveyed, Senator Sandiford-Garner said boys were generally more active than girls. It also reported that children in that age group preferred such sedentary activities as television viewing, computer and video games as opposed to physical activity.

In addition, the snacks of choice were reported to be chocolates, candy, cake, sweet bread and other sweet pastries. These were consumed by over 60 per cent of adolescent school students at least once per week, while 65.3 per cent had one or two soft drinks daily.??

"Patterns of fruit and vegetable intake revealed that only 34 per cent used fruit every day and 31 per cent used vegetables daily. There are reports that there is a slight increase in the number of children who are developing Type 2 diabetes worldwide, [this type is found] mainly in adolescents who may be overweight or obese.??

"However, no statistics are available for Barbados. It should be noted that the risk factors for Type 1 diabetes (which is predominant in children) differ from the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes (adult onset diabetes)," the senator explained. She added that diet and exercise were important preventative measures and the health profile of children in Barbados reflected a picture of overall good health.

She outlined some of the work which the Ministry of Health’s National Task Force on Physical Activity & Exercise has been doing to get children active such as introducing a ???Jump Rope For Heart’ programme in primary schools.?? It utilises skipping as a means of physical activity for children.

"The Ministry of Health provided training for physical education teachers and donated 2,000 skipping ropes to the Ministry of Education to facilitate the programme.
The National Nutrition Centre, at the request of the National Commission for Chronic NCDs, prepared guidelines for healthy foods in schools, which were approved by the Cabinet and we are working with the Ministry of Education to implement these guidelines," she explained.

The Ministry has also conducted with canteen operators, she pointed out, and meetings are to be held with principals, Parent-Teacher Associations and students to promote the guidelines.

Senator Sandiford-Garner added that the National Commission for Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases would soon be working with the Pan American Health Organisation to develop the Code of Marketing of Food Products to children. This, she said, was a regional initiative.

It was revealed that the Ministry also implemented a programme of school-based gardens at nursery schools and the expansion of this project is being considered. And, she disclosed that in the new series of the Get Healthy Barbados television programme, the Ministry of Health would be focusing on childhood obesity and planned to present information on physical activity and nutrition; that is, information on healthy snacks and lunch.

The Senator lauded the organisers behind the National Children’s Conference on NCDs, stating it was in tandem with the Ministry of Health’s initiatives.


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