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Tackling childhood obesity

By Kimberly Castillo

“Every successive generation of kids is getting fatter,” said Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh. Teelucksingh sits on the board of directors for the Diabetes Education Research and Prevention Institute (DERPI) established under the Bhagwansingh Hardware Trust. He is an advocate for healthy lifestyles and has spoken extensively on childhood obesity in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Our children are becoming overweight and obese,”said Teelucksingh.
To illustrate his point, Teelucksingh often refers to two photos taken decades apart. The first is a black-and-white shot of Dr Eric Williams surrounded by primary school children, the other picture shows another prime minister — Patrick Manning flanked by school children in front of White Hall, however the children in this photo are noticeably heavier than those with Williams.
Research conducted by Yvonne Batson through DERPI has already uncovered the grim reality that there has been a significant increase in childhood obesity in the last decade. And the Trinidad and Tobago Chronic Non-Communicable Disease Risk Factor Survey which was published in 2012 noted that in 2001, the number of overweight and obese school children in T&T stood at just under eight per cent, in 2011 that number had skyrocketed to 30 per cent. The data suggested that school children who are obese went up by 600 per cent and those who are overweight increased by 300 per cent.
The diseases associated with obesity account for 80 per cent of our health care cost. If we could treat obesity effectively, said Teelucksingh, we could reduce the costs that have to go into attending to these problems. But getting people to adopt healthy lifestyles requires firstly that they understand the linkages between lifestyles and outcomes, he said.
“Much of the health burden in our country can be linked to obesity and obesity damages health in a number of interesting ways. If you have a lot of fat around your belly and you’re shaped like an apple that’s bad news compared to if you’re shaped like a pear. You become prone to a host of diseases which occupy a lot of our current situation right now in our health care delivery, it includes diabetes, raised blood pressure, raised fats in one’s blood, the propensity to heart disease, the propensity to some forms of cancer, obstructive sleep apnea, depression and gout,” he said.
A change in lifestyle to include physical activity and healthy dietary habits is essential to halt this emerging trend of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in our young people, Batson noted.
Encouraging young ones to change their lifestyles and make healthier choices was the main purpose behind the most recent collaboration by the Ministry of Health and DERPI. A team which included research officers, doctors and dieticians paid a visit to a secondary school in east Trinidad where they conducted an interactive session with pupils and parents and discussed maintaining a healthy body shape, getting enough exercise and sleep every day.
DERPI was established for the purpose of developing and carrying out major projects in the field of chronic noncommunicable diseases with a special emphasis on diabetes and its associated diseases. Since it was launched in 2007, DERPI has conducted several research studies including the school children initiative during which 67,000 school children were screened for diabetes, in 2012 DERPI conducted an assessment of the general knowledge of diabetes among adolescents in 32 secondary schools. And beginning last year DERPI began its latest study on body mass index and its associated health and educational effects in secondary school age pupils. In this study, pupils will be studied over a five year period to ascertain whether there is an association between BMI and the development of diabetes, lung function, menstrual irregularities and educational achievement.
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