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Is your institution a breeding ground for chronic lifestyle diseases?

By maxwell adeyemi

This week I am dealing with a subject that may require testicular fortitude in policy changes from various spheres of our society.
Have you walked into any of our public institutions: health centres, government offices, even school premises and you notice various small shops, small petty cash business selling unhealthy snacks and drinks?
A member of the public recently stopped me and asked me "Why is it people in the health centres, schools and work places sell unhealthy things in the facilities when in fact a healthy lifestyle needs to be promoted, and many of these items contribute to our health problems?.
I was short of answers, because the reality is that she was correct in her observation!! Some of our health centres either have people on or around the place marketing unhealthy foods, snacks and drinks to generate petty cash.
The story was told of tourist who visited one of our primary schools sometimes ago and was surprised to see a 'shop' within the school compound loaded with unhealthy food and snack options for the school children.

WHY WORRY ABOUT UNHEALHTY OPTIONS?

It is highly documented the enormous harm that unhealthy foods, unhealthy snacks and drinks are having on our population.
OBESITY: has tripled in the past decade as a result of junk foods, and unhealthy food choices, diabetes has become an epidemic as a result of poor choices. Hypertension has become a household phenomenon because of poor eating habits, salty snacks accompanied by poor physical activity.
If we are serious about putting these risks factors of non communicable chronic diseases under check, we must of necessity address many of these pertinent issues in our society. We must be proactive in embarking on a preventative approach that discourages the availability and consumption of these foods and drink options in our homes, institutions, work place and most importantly in our schools.
Once a patient's relative complained why unhealthy and salty snacks are allowed within the premises of a dialysis service. Most of these patients were either diabetic and / or hypertensive which led to kidney failure, and should really be on low salt/renal diet, but some of them ignorantly or unknowingly continues to consume these unhealthy snacks when they get hungry largely because no healthy options are available.
The impact of unhealthy diet on our health in the long term is amazingly high, psychologically distressing, unacceptably costly and socially crippling. It is the steps we take today towards addressing them that will save us the pains tomorrow.

WHAT CAN WE DO:

Socialising Our Children on Healthy Options: We as parents, teachers and health officials must start and continue to educate our children on healthy options and socialise them in the culture of healthy nutrition. During a recent school screening, A form three (3) student was asked about her major meals for the day , she replied by saying she eats KFC twice a day, because her mother works in KFC so she gets it free. This is a classic case of poor rationalisation and improper culture of feeding.
Many of our children do not even have a proper understanding of what balanced diet, healthy nutrition is about. We indulge them in whatever they want, we give them unhealthy snacks and drinks in their lunch kits. We have to start changing their orientation, as researchers have shown that the impacts of poor nutrition in early years are felt in later years of life as these chronic diseases in our forties and fifties have their roots in decades of unhealthy eating that started in childhood days.
WHILE WE ALLOW THESE UNHEALTHY FOODS TO BE SOLD,HOW MANY WORK PLACES ENCOURAGE HEALTH EDUCATION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY OR EXERCISE PROGRAMMES?

SCHOOL NUTRITION:

It is a laudable idea to provide school nutrition for students especially for those who may not be able to afford good meals regularly as good nutrition has been found to impact on good intellectual ability and better school performances. But 'school grub" as it is now popularly called by students has its challenges. I am not sure of the quality of the school foods, how healthy and nutritious it is in recent time , but the fact that many students complains about it ,some shun it, some throw them away and others just make fun of it speak volumes.
While I am not knocking the food, as I believe many students are benefiting from it, I think it won't hurt to evaluate the programme, utilise professional expertise from our nutritionist and dieticians and establish a basic standard that must be adhered to by all providers of the nutrition program to enhance better health for our students .If this has been done and a standard is in place and followed, then there need to be education of the students and their parents regarding the value of what the program is providing so they have a better appreciation of the nutritious food they are provided.

EDUCATE VENDORS IN PUBLIC PLACES:

Small shops and petty trading is a means of livelihood that will always be with us, they serve their purpose in the areas located. While I do not advocate we dispose of them, we have a responsibility to educate the vendors and encourage them in providing healthy options of foods, snacks, fruits and drinks to the population, be it in the government offices, hospital compound, health centres and school premises. There may also be the need to encourage work places to set guidelines/policies as to what is sold in these places so that we promote healthy options for the benefit of everyone.

LEGISLATION- Always an option:

While dialogue and collaboration are better ways of changing the habits and practices we found to be in need of improvements, The option of legislation and policy enforcement is also a very useful tool. To save the next generation from the pain of deleterious health effect of prolonged bad eating habit either out of ignorance , deliberate choices or even undisciplined dietary practices we may need to develop policies and strategies backed by legislative support to achieve our goals.
Presently in the state of California, once faced with serious issues of childhood obesity, it is now illegal to sell unhealthy foods within 500 yards of their school premises. A similar step was taken in the UK, Finland and Sweden in the past five (5) years to stem the tide of growing childhood obesity and these measures are bearing good results..

SELF MANAGEMENT:

The population need to also wake up to its responsibility to strong health self management ,to imbibe the culture of healthy eating and avoid unhealthy options.
Our children are very well schooled in unhealthy eating partly due to the fact that we have very young/teenage mothers who themselves feed on these foods and that is all the children see and learn, the culture of fruits and vegetables, and balanced diet is alien to many of our students ,hence the need for educating our parents using the health system, work places and the media to gradually change this habits.
It is a collective effort that must involve all of us for a better, stronger, healthier society.

Contact Dr Maxwell Adeyemi on 3631807 or
maxwelladeyemi@hotmail.com

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Trevor Salisbury said on Monday, Mar 5 at 10:19 AM

This is a wake- up call to the society. Here are a few things that can be done: The print media can stop placing soft drink and juice drink (sugary drinks) ads on the front and back pages. Schools could have talks at PTA meetings on How to Read Food Labels.The Ministry of Education could put measures in place to raise the status of Physical Education in the school system.

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child advocate said on Sunday, Mar 4 at 11:02 PM

I hope the good doc has a part 2. keep the issues on the front burner.

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LOIS said on Sunday, Mar 4 at 4:03 PM

I WISH THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION WILL REINTRODUCE THE HEALTH AND FAMILY AS A SUBJECT.I THINK THIS WILL HELP OUR STUDENTS TO MAKE HEALTHY CHOICES.MAYBE WE CAN DO SOME COMMUNITY EDUCATION AS WELL.A HEALTHY POPULATION IS IMPORTANT FOR PRODUCTION AND SUCCESS.

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Savita said on Sunday, Mar 4 at 1:48 PM

I hope the secretary for Health and the Tobago PTA read this article and do something for the children's sake.

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Ingram said on Saturday, Mar 3 at 2:55 PM

The doctor had the strength to write about a touchy subject. No one seems to want to offend the small vendors who are trying to make a honest living. But the truth will offend. Perhaps they themselves don't know how harmful sweet drinks and some of the other drinks and snacks are in terms of contributing to lifestyle diseases. I myself have wondered about the unhealthy items in schools and around the hospitals. Even the now fashionable vending machines have a lot of unhealthy items. Some type of regulation is necessary.

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Health Fanatic said on Saturday, Mar 3 at 2:34 PM

This article is not only appropriate but very timely, especially since the Ministry of Health seems to have found the courage to address Wellness in a more direct way through a series of advertisements and also through the Fight the Fat programme. I hope that the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and other ministries with some responsibility for children and youth would work in a mutually collaborative way to address the issue of Wellness by considering the use of well publicised guidelines and appropriate policy initiatives in terms of what should be sold in health and educational institutions. Just today I was telling someone that in many school cafeterias the only healthy item is bottled water.It is almost impossible for a pupil to purchase unsalted nuts, sandwiches made with real whole wheat bread, and 100% juice without added sugar in school cafeterias.Instead these cafeterias are supplied with sugary juice drinks, soft drinks, french fries, and salted snacks.

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