Promoting healthy weight in the Caribbean: Safeguarding future development

Roseau, Dominica — The Caribbean is in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic, despite the fact that the health status of the region’s children and young people has dramatically improved over the past decades.

Statistics show that at least one in every five children carry unhealthy weight and risk developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, later in life. This will result in higher lifetime health costs for the individual and the state.

Although the region is not facing a unique public health challenge, it has the unenviable distinction of having rates of prevalence that are close to or above the global average.

For this reason, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) brought together a regional task force to develop a plan of action to address childhood obesity and provide a comprehensive public health response.
CARPHA executive director, Dr C. James Hospedales, pointed out that “we have set ourselves an ambitious goal, to halt and reverse a rise in child and adolescent obesity in the Caribbean by 2025.”

He added, “To achieve this, we will focus on technical cooperation with our member states to support the implementation of specific measures, paying attention to reducing obesogenic environments.”

Following its 12th executive board meeting in Dominica last week, CARPHA presented its 2014 – 2019 plan of action for promoting healthy weights in the Caribbean: Prevention and control of childhood obesity to Maynese Titre, nutritionist at the ministry of health, Dominica.

Regional data show that Dominica, like most other countries, has a problem with increasing body mass index in children and adults, although less so than most of its Caribbean counterparts. In this regard, officials at the ministry of health stated their intention to use this plan to assist Dominica in reducing childhood obesity and obesogenic environments.

It is anticipated that by 2019, governments of the region, with assistance from the CARPHA, will be able to:

  • provide children with more supportive environments for physical activity and healthy eating;
  • provide appropriate incentives to discourage unhealthy consumption patterns and to create and encourage healthier dietary choices;
  • empower communities to embrace active living and healthful eating;
  • provide parents and children with accurate information about food, nutrition and exercise to enable informed decisions;
  • provide the necessary care and support to our children who are affected by overweight/obesity, and to ensure that they are safeguarded from bias and stigmatization associated with their condition;
  • ensure that systems within government have the capability to mount effective responses and that multi-sectoral cooperation is fostered;
  • have data available for tracking the movement of the epidemic and for measuring and assessing results.

The NCD epidemic is manmade, fuelled by food insecurity, economic and socio-cultural factors in the region. Therefore, effectively addressing this complex problem calls for a sustained, multi-sectoral response involving the public, private, health professionals and non-governmental sectors. CARPHA, CARICOM and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) must work with member states to address this challenge to children.

In light of this, Hospedales said, “The responsibility for protecting the future of our children should be shared by all sectors, both public and private, all levels of government and by families and civil society at large. In fact, there is a critical need to collectively safeguard our future development.”

The healthy weights action plan will be circulated to all stakeholders in CARPHA member states. It will also be available as a reference document to students and all parties interested in promoting healthy weights in the Caribbean.

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