Health Ministry set to take war on obesity to schools

The Health Ministry yesterday announced a major offensive against obesity, saying officials will be targeting schools and canteens in the hope that children will eat healthier and take home the message to their parents who are increasingly vulnerable to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) linked to obesity.

With NCDs, such as diabetes, heart diseases, cancers, stroke and cardio pulmonary diseases such as asthma, accounting for over half of the country’s deaths Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran says tackling NCDs will be on his ministry’s “front burner”.

“We are concerned about childhood obesity and we were linking it with the schools’ canteens so we are going to be working with the schools more vigorously and more innovatively to promote… health clubs…,” the minister said. He said it was hoped that children “will become our change agents to influence their adult population in the fight against NCDs.

“We will be utilising traditional partners who we feel we have not fully utilised… so we are going to be promoting the healthy lifestyle in the school system.”

In November Ramsaran had met regional health officers and other stakeholders to draft the 2013-2020 health strategy titled ‘Health Vision 2020’ which will see lifestyle diseases being the major focus.

The strategy targets increased life expectancy for both men and women to over 70 years; decrease in maternal mortality to below 80 for 100,000 live births; decrease in infant and child mortality to less than 14 and 16 per 10,000 live births; decrease by 25 per cent in cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer, diabetes and lung disease; reduce the impact of smoking, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet by 25%; reduce the risk and decrease incidences and prevalence of communicable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.

At that forum Chief Medical Officer Dr Shamdeo Persaud had informed that the plan has two strategic pillars which are universal health coverage and the social determinants of health. Some of the new strategic components include improved governance reorganising the delivery of health, the application of evidence-based approaches, capacity building, strengthening health sector financing, strengthening strategic information for planning and implementation, develop performance management and monitoring systems.

The sensitisation exercises will roll out in the city since it is more populated and move to other areas in the country.

“There are four threats the ministry would be looking at the abuse of alcohol, tobacco consumption, sedentary lifestyle and improper diet and fatty foods and a component we want to add for our population – salt – the four threats that tend to reinforce these diseases,” he added.

“We will be having a populace approach… We will be having the wellness warriors being educated on a mass scale about these categories of diseases and categories of threats so that everywhere under every leaf, under every stone and in every corner, we have a wellness warrior.”

As a result, health centres in the rural areas are gearing to deal with treatment of NCDs so that, for example, should a child have an asthma attack there will be no need to venture all the way to the city. The ministry is attempting to not only have extended health centre hours, but to furnishing centres with needed equipment such as nebulizers, the minister said.

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