ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Almost one in five Antiguan secondary school pupils are obese or overweight, according to shocking statistics. And that figure soars to almost one in four children in the sister isle.
Modern day sedentary lifestyles – which have seen youngsters shunning traditional activities such as skipping, cricket and rounders, in favour of watching TV and playing computer games – is cited among the principle reasons.
Others include poor eating habits with too much fat and sugar, putting children as young as 11 at risk of high blood pressure, hypertension and diabetes.
The findings came under the spotlight as a regional seminar, taking place this week in Guyana, attempted to find solutions.
Obesity in Caribbean children was described as a “major concern” among regional government heads.
Reduced PE classes – once a staple of primary and secondary education – was also listed as an aggravating factor.
Speaking at the 23rd council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD), Senator Malaka Parker said, “Physical education in schools is limited and usually goes up to second or third form, unless students take it as a subject for CXC.”
She continued, “One of the major concerns of course is the feeding or eating patterns of our children and the food environment, eg, what is sold in schools – snacks which are high sugar and fat in particular, frequent snacking, breastfeeding patterns etc.
“Also, children have become less active; recreation includes TV, video games, the computer – instead of skipping, rounders, cricket and outdoor play.”
Data contained in a presentation entitled ‘Nutritional Status of the population of Antigua & Barbuda’ showed weight problems in children increased with age.
An extract from Chief Nutritionist Juanita James revealed that some local school children are already suffering the effects of elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
A 2006 survey of more than 400 adolescents aged 11 to 17 found that 18.9 per cent of secondary school children in Antigua had excess weight.
Girls were particularly susceptible, with 20.4 per cent overweight or obese, compared to 16.6 per cent of boys. Childhood obesity in Barbuda was as high as 23.4 per cent.
Another study conducted between 2006 and 2009 scrutinised the habits of 4,000 local youngsters aged five to 20.
Of those, a staggering 26.5 per cent were overweight or obese. More than one in five of them were less than 10 years old.
This placed them at “high risk” of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, the report stated.
Senator Parker said efforts were underway to tackle the regional problem with the help of various agencies including the United Nations, Caricom, the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).