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Feb 7, 2018

Why We Should Worry about Childhood Obesity

In recent years, there has been a big push to curb childhood obesity. The Ministry of Health and other local stakeholders have been working on a comprehensive plan to take on this growing public health challenge. Back in October, we showed you how government officials and representatives from a wide cross-section of agencies and partners of civil society and private sector gathered to address this issue with a strong focus on schools. Now, another stakeholder is doing its part because being obese means you are predisposed to a number of non-communicable diseases including cancer. So, the Belize Cancer Society received a grant from the Caribbean Development Bank to do a six-month project that covers awareness and policy discussions about this critical issue. News Five’s Andrea Polanco attended today’s workshop and shares more.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic. According to the WHO, in 2016, forty-one million children under the age of five were overweight or obese and over three hundred and forty million children and adolescents aged five to nineteen were affected by this public health issue. In Belize, the stats are not as updated but a study done in 2009 showed alarming numbers with more than sixty percent of the children are overweight or obese. Obesity puts a child at risk for a number of non-communicable diseases including cancers, heart disease and diabetes. And that is why the Belize Cancer Society, through a CDB grant, has been meeting with stakeholders since Monday to take on childhood obesity through a short term project.

 

Heather Reneau

Heather Reneau, Senior Administrator, Belize Cancer Society

“As the Cancer Society, you always hear us about cervical cancer and breast cancer but we have noticed that childhood obesity is also one of these contributing factors that that contributes very greatly to diabetes, cancer, cardio vascular disease, respiratory problems. So, we see that we are coming in contact with a lot of kids that have cancer. Some of them might not necessarily be obese but looking at our society and see our children; we know that we have to do something now because the health burden will increase dramatically later as we are seeing already. The last study done was the Cambie study in 2009 that we have taken some statistics from in 2009 and that showed that in 2009 almost sixty-two percent of all our children were considered obese and overweight. So, think about all the years that have passed and the prevalence you see when the Ministry of Health reports on the number of diabetes cases, the number of cancer mortalities, all of these are contributed to by obesity.”

 

But what is causing our children to be overweight and obese? Unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise are two of the biggest of the contributors. The 2011 Global School-based student health survey showed that over sixty percent of the thirteen to fifteen year-olds had more than one sugary drink for the day. And so this means a big change – a cultural lifestyle shift.

 

Jorge Polanco

Dr. Jorge Polanco, Country Coordinator, INCAP/PAHO Focal Point

“The rate of lack of physical activity is high. A very small proportion of adults and adolescents are actively involved in any sport or activity that would really keep them healthy. There area is diet. There is an increased consumption of calories and increased consumption of unhealthy fats.  Combined with very little physical activity, the fat accumulates – putting it in simple terms. So, that is where the emphasis is;in promoting healthy food; informing the public as to what is unhealthy; what makes a drink unhealthy and what makes a food unhealthy. On the other hand, informing them what are the healthy options and promoting this because it is not an easy issue. It is looking at traditions – a cultural nutritional pattern but it is not impossible. The challenge is to be consistent, look at specific needs for different age groups, for example, children, adolescents, adults, and just keep on educating and promoting.”

 

Experts and partners are now working on a draft action plan to address childhood obesity. Health officials say that policies and taxes on sugary drinks are a part of the discussions.

 

Beverly Barnett

Dr. Beverly Barnett, Consultant, Healthy Caribbean Coalition

“As you know several countries in the Caribbean and elsewhere have implemented taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to attempt to reduce their consumption to have an effect especially on childhood obesity, obesity in general. So, I think the presence of the attorney general’s office is a good thing. This is going to contribute to policy, to legislation and so to have key stakeholders early in the process is always very good.”

 

Dr. Jorge Polanco

“There is a need for a legislative support. For example, at the level of schools, one of the discussions being discussed in this short-term project here is to look at how policy support can encourage the presence, the accessibility to healthy food. Simultaneously, the prevention and control of unhealthy food in the school environment, food and drinks.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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