Sunday, April 10, 2011

Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the Bahamas

New programme to tackle childhood obesity

Tribune Staff Reporter

HEALTH professionals are teaming up to tackle the problem of childhood obesity, which they say is a growing concern in the Bahamas.

Darren Bastian, business development manager at Atlantic Medical Insurance, said insurers and health industry workers are seeing an increase in the number of children with diseases traditionally considered to be adult-specific, such as diabetes.

Atlantic Medical has teamed up with the Nassau chapter of The Links Incorporated, a non-profit organisation, to launch a childhood obesity programme in five pilot schools across the country.

Around 550 grade five students from St Anne's School, St John's College, Oakes Field Primary School, Sadie Curtiss Primary School and Woodcock Primary School will participate in the campaign, which aims to reverse the trend of childhood obesity.

They are being encouraged to participate in the annual Fun Walk fundraiser for the Cancer Society of the Bahamas and the Bahamas Diabetic Association. Last year the event generated $32,000 in donations to fund the two organisations.

"We are confident that over the years, Atlantic Medical Insurance Company Ltd has led the way in sensitising the Bahamian public about the importance of healthy lifestyles. We believe that if our children learn the importance of healthy lifestyles early in life that it becomes a win-win for everyone in the fight against lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and various kinds of cancer," Mr Bastian.

With the growing influence of technology, Mr Bastian said, many children are not as active as those who grew up just a generation ago.

He said local children used to entertain themselves with games that required exercise, such as "bat and ball".

Today, children usually sit in front of a game set with a bag of chips and exercise only their arms - by putting chips in their mouths, he said.

Childhood development is important, because "what is habit today becomes second nature tomorrow", said Mr Bastian.

"If a child develops unhealthy eating habits at a very young age that pattern will likely continue into adulthood," he said.

There is also a "ripple effect" in the system because of the problem of childhood obesity.

Mr Bastian said the healthier a population is, the more favourable insurance rates are. More diseases to treat and related higher the costs lead to higher insurance rates.

The role of a healthy lifestyle in disease prevention is a core focus of the annual fun walk and the school programme.

This is the 13th year of the fun walk and organisers expect to see many "fun walk babies" - children who first participated when they were infants in strollers and are now participating as teenagers, said Mr Bastian.

April 09, 2011