Public Health Communications Specialist
Ministry of Health/Social Development
Teachers of Physical Education and Grades 2 and 3 met at a two day workshop to strategise and find effective ways to implement the ‘healthy lifestyle school intervention programme’ in schools across the Territory.
The programme is a joint initiative by the Ministries of Education and Culture and Health and Social Development, and the Caribbean Public Health Association. It seeks to improve the health and academic performance among school aged children by improving their diet and physical activity patterns. This will be done by instilling the knowledge, skills and motivation needed for adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Coordinator for Health Promotion Services and national focal point for the Non Communicable Diseases programme, Ms. Ivy George said there is an increase in the number of children suffering from childhood obesity in the Territory. She said the aim is to prevent childhood obesity in school age children through the implementation of the intervention programme which is designed to help to delay or prevent the onset of obesity and chronic non communicable diseases in the future. The programme will be integrated within the core subjects of math, science, language and physical education and will concentrate on nutrition and physical activity.
Ms. George added, “The reason we are concentrating on these two behaviors is because nutrition and physical activity accounts for two of the four modifiable behavioral risk factors that are common to the development of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems and some cancers. We feel that these two interventions will make the greatest impact.” She said the other two risk factors are smoking and excessive alcohol use.
The course material, was developed by teachers, and will be taught in all public schools. Teachers highlighted the importance of the programme, its benefits and how parents can help.
Mrs. Heather George, of the Leonara Delville Primary School, said, “It is necessary, especially with our children because as a teacher and advocate for healthy eating I have seen the effects of the eating habits of the children over the years.”
Mrs. Shaniqua Henley-Vanterpool, of the Ivan Dawson Primary School stated, “I think it is a good initiative and students will be able to make better choices. The programme will help them to understand that having a healthy lifestyle is part diet and part physical activity.
Ms. Leticia Leonard, of the Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School added, “It is a very good initiative to get parents, teachers, stakeholders and the community to help prevent childhood obesity and encouraging the eating of a variety of foods from all of the food groups.”
The teachers also advocated for parental buy-in to make the programme a success.
The Ministries are also expecting to see behavior changes as part of the Healthy Lifestyle School Intervention Programme.
“We want children to eat a variety of foods daily, we want them to eat breakfast daily, we want them to eat fruits and vegetables daily”, Education Officer in the Ministry of Education and Culture, Ms Beverlie Braithwaite said. She added, “We want their daily intake of fats, salts, and sugary snacks and drinks reduced and we want the children to engage in a variety of physical activities daily.”
Meetings will be held with school vendors and parents in the coming weeks as the Ministries aspire to a successful implementation of the programme. Nutrition sessions, food demonstrations and back yard garden sessions are also among strategies that will be used to inspire parents to support the intervention.
The Healthy Lifestyle School Intervention Programme is a five year initiative that will see the preparation of behavioral lessons for children in pre-primary and primary schools as Government forges towards a healthier Virgin Islands.