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TT children too fat

By Rachael Espinet Monday, February 3 2014

There is a direct link between childhood obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) said Dr Anjani Sharma, research medial officer with the Ministry of Health.

Sharma was speaking at the Paediatric Society of Trinidad and Tobago’s (PSTT) Regional Paediatric Conference at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s.

“Obesity among children is an epidemic in Trinidad and Tobago. Our children are tipping the scales in the unhealthiest way, condemning them to a high possibility of developing CNCDs in the future,” Sharma said.

Sharma said a study on overweight children done in 2009 by University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Diabetes Education Research and Prevention Institute (DERPI) showed a high risk of developing diabetes in the five to 17 age group.

She said another study done by the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute and the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee confirmed high rates of overweight and obesity throughout the island among primary and secondary school children.

Sharma said the issue of childhood obesity must be handled from all levels of society which include government agencies, the food and beverages industries, schools, comminutes, and families.

“This issue of childhood obesity has created a significant health care burden on our society, and threatens the well-being of our future generations. It is imperative that agencies work together to develop and implement strategies at all levels,” Sharma said. Sharma said the Ministry of Health calls on each person to take responsibility for their health and their children’s health. She said focusing on the food consumed by the family unit is key to avoiding childhood obesity.

“In principle no child should be put on a diet, instead they should be in an environment that supports them living healthier lives by protecting against harmful influences. This is because children are taught what they should eat from the adults who take care of them,” she said,

Sharma reaffirmed that children learn from watching adults, so parents must set the example for healthy eating habits.

One area Sharma said was critical to highlight with regard to child health was maternal health and breastfeeding.

“The first source of our children’s nutrition is instrumental in ensuring their health and well-being. Our hospitals, clinics, offices and communities must be the first source of good health and nutrition in our mothers and mothers-to-be and support them in breast feeding their children,” she said.

Sharma said research showed breast milk reduces the incidences of respiratory illness, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Breastfeeding also protects against over-nutrition in babies and young children.

She further said maternal obesity carries a greater risk of childhood obesity when a child is young.

Sharma said the regional health authorities have started initiatives to combat childhood obesity through obesity clinics and workshops. The Primary Care Child Assessment Unit at Barataria takes in obese children who have been referred to them. She said soon the same unit would be open in St James.

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