Healthy Eating, Active Living

| 27/05/2009

On 1 June 2009 we will celebrate the fifth annual Caribbean Nutrition Day – an initiative of the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, a specialized centre of the Pan American Health Organization.

The main goal is to highlight the importance of good nutrition and regular physical activity in the attainment of healthier lifestyles. This year’s theme Healthy Eating, Active Living: A Family Approach specifically emphasises that much more is achievable, if family members work together.

Adverse lifestyle-related conditions such as obesity, including childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol have now become prevalent in Cayman and across the region, making it imperative for health policies to emphasize the protective effects of a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Prevention of these ‘lifestyle’ based health problems are the ultimate goal, with the minimum objective being to control and minimize their negative consequences.

Research has shown that the majority of children carrying excess body fat, being overweight or obese, will grow into obese adults. The longer excess body fat is carried, the higher the risk for chronic lifestyle related conditions and their consequences, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney problems, certain cancers, sleep apnea, and musculo-skeletal disorders. In addition, poor self esteem and negative social stigma are very emotionally damaging results of early obesity.

Research has also shown that health outcomes later in life begin from the womb, with the nutritional quality of the mother’s diet, the practice of breastfeeding, appropriate weaning practices, and early childhood eating patterns and habits. Therefore the supportive environment of family, from the earliest stages of life, cannot be emphasized enough. Parents serve as role-models for children to imitate behaviours, and this also includes health choices.

Small choices can collectively accumulate into lifestyle changes. Practically speaking, this may include grocery shopping with your kids, reading labels on products, and otherwise involving them in making healthier food choices. It may also include preparing and eating at least one meal per day with your kids at home. This will encourage regular mealtimes, improved food preparation and cooking skills, and family bonding; and may also discourage dependence on so-called ‘convenience’ foods, other highly processed foods, and/or ‘fast’ foods.

Another step toward positive change for many may be to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, which contain essential vitamins, minerals, water and fibre for proper functioning of the body. These foods also contain natural substances called antioxidants, which protect body cells from damage leading to cancer or heart disease.

Many kinds of fruits and vegetables are also good sources of potassium, which is known to help reduce high blood pressure. In addition, many fruits are especially good sources of soluble fibre, which assists in reducing high blood cholesterol levels. The fibre found in fruits and vegetablesalso promotes feelings of fullness after eating, thereby assisting with weight control. Fibre also encourages regular bowel action, keeping the large intestine healthy.

Families should strive to include at least one vegetable serving at lunch and dinner, and include a serving of fruit at breakfast. Portable fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and small boxes of raisins should be kept on hand for snacks on the go,. However, it is best to limit juice to one serving daily and eat more fresh, frozen, or dried fruit.

Regular physical activity is equally important for healthy living. Physical activity helps to reduce body fat, strengthen the heart and lungs, improve blood circulation, strengthen/maintain muscle mass, build bone mass (through weight bearing exercise), reduce stress, and improve mood. It is recommended to engage in moderate physical activity (for example brisk walking, recreational swimming, cycling and tennis) for at least 30 minutes at least five times per week.

Families can increase physical activity together by taking walks, riding bikes, playing recreational sports, swimming, or doing house-cleaning and yard work for only half an hour each day. Spending less time in front of the TV or computer will allow more time for exercise.

Practicing a healthy lifestyle is far easier once families are supportive of each other in doing so, and actively participate in healthy habits together. Children especially need positive role models in all areas of life, including their health choices. This may be a good time to take stock of your families lifestyle and make constructive changes where needed.

To consult with a dietitian for more guidance, please make appointments at your district health centers, GT General Practice (Tel: 244-2663) or the Specialist Clinic (Tel: 244-2530) at the Cayman Islands Hospital.

Bethany Smith is the Community Dietitian for the Health Services Authority

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