A frightening situation has developed where the children of this country are becoming more obese than the children in the United States, says Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan.
A study published by the University of the West Indies (UWI) on overweight children showed findings of a high risk of development of diabetes and hypertension among our younger ones.
Additional studies by the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute and the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee showed high rates of obesity throughout the island.
Speaking to the Express by phone, Khan said that the study focused on children in rural areas and the figures would be frightening when one examines the statistics of child obesity in urban areas.
He said his Ministry will be collaborating with the Education Ministry with the aim of changing the meals distributed to pupils in the school feeding programme.
He added that tackling child obesity was a difficult task as the full support of parents is needed.
Khan said the expanding fast food industry and in particular the use of chemicals in these foods to make them addictive was one of the problems.
“These children end up with empty calories being put on as fat and you find it a lot in the fast food industry. It’s an epidemic, that’s they the World Health Organisation has taken a firm approach on this,” said Khan.
The issue was raised yesterday at the regional Paediatric conference — The Bridge — From Infancy to Adulthood at the Trinidad Hilton, St Ann’s yesterday.
Dr Anjanie Sharma delivered the address on Khan’s behalf where she spoke of the alarming obesity rate of children in this country.
She noted that last week, the Trinidad and Tobago Health Sciences Initiative hosted a symposium featuring the research done through their Diabetes Outreach Programme in this country.
“What they have brought to the forefront really hit home when it comes to childhood obesity. I am not exaggerating when I say that obesity among children is an epidemic in Trinidad and Tobago. Our children are tipping the scales in the unhealthiest way, making them some of the most obese in the world,” said Sharma.
She noted the studies by UWI the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute and the Trinidad and Tobago.
Sharma said in the county of St George, one in four children are overweight while the rate in South Trinidad is even higher with one in three children overweight children.
“These figures are worse than those in the United States,” said Sharma.
“This epidemic has created a burden on our society and threatens our well-being. It mandates us to implement strategies at all levels: the government, the food and beverage industries, our schools, our communities, the family and the individual,” she added.
Sharma stressed that lifestyle changes must be made in the family and no individual child should be put on a diet.
She said children are taught what they should eat from the adults who take care of them and society tells them what is acceptable and thus informs their habits.
Sharma said that social determinants like poverty and a lack of education often provides the pathway to under-nutrition and consequently non-communicable diseases.
She said the Regional Health Authorities have begun initiatives to combat this through obesity clinics and workshops.
The Primary Care Child Assessment Unit at Barataria and soon at St James will accommodate referrals of overweight children.
Sharma said this was just the beginning of what needs to be done for non-communicable diseases in children in the RHAs.
She noted that the Ministry of Health had Wee Fit and Healthy Me camps for the past three years as well as a school caravan in 2013.