Healthy eating project to continue in school

| 18/01/2011

(CNS): With almost half the children in year seven with weight problems the Children’s Health Task Force (CHTF) is continuing its Health4Youth Programme at the John Gray and Clifton Hunter schools this year. Although organisers say there have been challenges the team is continuing to educate young people to make healthier eating choices even if the students are not happy about it. The goal of the programme is to create holistic approach towards fighting childhood obesity by working with a pilot group of students in the 2009-2010 year seven class at John Gray which is now in its second year. Officials hope the project will be a step towards reversing worrying indicators that today’s children are already at risk of serious, future health problems.

Offering his backing to the pilot project the education minister has said that poor nutrition during childhood can have lasting effects, impairing cognitive development and performance. “This is our opportunity to make a measurable difference in student health and well-being. Research consistently shows that children who eat healthier meals perform better academically and are absent from classes less often," Rolston Anglin stated.

However, CNS understands that many of the children are finding it difficult to adapt to the new menus in the schools which offer healthier foods. The ban on fast food on campus has not necessarily prevented older children from continuing to go to fast food restaurants at lunch time instead of the school canteen. A number of restaurants in the George Town area have also reported a significant increase in lunch time custom from students who say they no longer want to eat in school.

However, Maureen Cubbon, PR & Fund Raising Coordinator says the team is pressing on and working with the school canteens, Mise En Place, teachers, parents and students with the implementation of the Standards for Food Provisions (CISFP). Her colleague Sue Rajah said, "It’s important for people to understand that the changes have come out of necessity with the health and wellness of the youth of Cayman as the focus. It was collaborative effort between the Children’s Health Task Force and the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education.”

Officials said that 175 children out of approximately 400 were indentified in the Year 7 class in the 85% and 95% percentile of Body Mass Index (BMI). 146 students were actively engaged in the programme through the school year, which included nutritional counselling, medical support and an afterschool exercise programme. After 2 years of collecting data and reporting back on the results of the program, the third year will focus on working with the Government and schools to support a change in mind set in the Cayman Islands about health and wellness, especially pertaining to the school environment.

The plans for the coming months include psychological assessments, continued nutrition sessions for the children in the program, and supporting the existing curriculum in the schools that focus around health. An extensive in school education campaign will commence in the coming months to help educate the students and teachers about the new foods served in the canteen. Medical assessments and measurements will continue also through the rest of the year.

Dr. Sook Yin, Medical Director for the Task Force, said that in the first year the task force and local pediatricians had worked very hard to obtain parameters like BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol level, glucose level andinsulin levels from the group which are predictors of chronic diseases.

“The results were startling to us as we have identified children as young as 12 years old here in the Cayman Islands who are showing signs of developing diabetes and hypertension, two major chronic diseases that in the past were perceived as "old people diseases". The community must come together to support the National Food Policy for school canteens that has been implemented to serve healthier and more nutritious meals to school children or we will have a generation of young adults in a decades’ time who will be a burden to our healthcare system," the doctor warned.

The Health4Youth Programme was originally created by a variety of organizations in the Cayman Islands that are commitment to the general well being of the Cayman community. The core committee is made of members for the Cayman Heart Fund, Generali Worldwide, TrinCay Medical and the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.

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