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Home  >  News
Ministry of Health fights Childhood Obesity
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Port of Spain: 

The Ministry of Health continued its fight against the growing incidences of childhood obesity when it’s Health Education Department in collaboration with Paediatricians of the Wendy Fitzwilliam Paediatric Hospital (the Wee Fit Group) and School Nurses of the St. George East County recently conducted a Childhood Healthy Lifestyle Camp, 'The Wee Fit Camp'.  This camp was held for (50) children aged 7-12 years old from primary schools in the St. George East County, who were previously screened and assessed as overweight or obese by school nurses of the St. George East County over the period January to March 2012.  The children who participated in the Wee Fit Camp are currently enrolled in the Childhood Healthy Lifestyle Clinic at the Wendy Fitzwilliams Paediatric Hospital and some have been found to have elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and Diabetes Type II.

2nd right-C J Gonzales makes a smoothie as part of the Wee Fit Camp activities.
Looking on at right is Yvonne Lewis - Director Health Education

In Trinidad and Tobago, research has shown that a quarter (25%) of school-aged children (5 – 18years) is overweight or obese.  Childhood obesity remains a major concern due to its impact on the development of risk factors leading to chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and strokes later on in life.   There has already been the emergence of CNCDs like diabetes in our children and youth populations.


Trinidad and Tobago, at 60%, has the highest overall percentage of deaths due to CNCDs within the Caribbean region, heart disease is the Number 1 cause of death in Trinidad and Tobago accounting for 25% of all deaths, the diabetes prevalence rate among adults is approximately 12% - 13% and 50% of persons, 24 – 64 years, already has 3 or more risk factors for CNCDs.  This high prevalence of CNCDs in our adult and children populations is related to unhealthy diets (high fat, salt & sugar), insufficient physical activity and low consumption of fruits and vegetables (less than 3 servings per day).

Some participants at the Wee Fit Camp

The Wee Fit Camp ran for 4 days in July 2012 and was geared towards promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing overweight and obesity in school-aged children.  The objectives of the camp were:

  • Promote healthy nutrition by focusing on making healthy food choices, using correct portion sizes, and eating fruit and vegetables daily.
  • Promote active lifestyles through the use of fun, exciting and innovative physical activities.
  • Promote and improve self confidence and self esteem in the children

Some of the fun activities the children benefitted from include learning about the importance of physical activity and making healthy food choices, making healthy snacks, health quizzes, cricket, football, kite making and flying, skipping, hula hoop, hop scotch, aerobics, Zumba and dance classes, as well as back yard gardening. A treasure hunt, picnic, and field trip to the Emperor Valley Zoo were also part of this exciting camp’s activities.

Dr Rhonda Lynch-Watts a Paediatrician from the Wendy Fitzwilliam Paediatric Hospital explained that the clinic and camp were implemented because they were seeing a lot of children at 14 and 15 years coming into the hospital with diabetes and high blood pressure. “We realized that their lifestyles were contributing to this emergence of chronic diseases in these young persons. From talking to their families, it’s quite apparent that healthy children come from healthy families and vice versa. Many times the parents are instrumental in what the children eat and how they exercise. We have to work at the family level to make a good contribution to our children’s lifestyles and what they eat, to achieve improvements in these areas.” When asked about the success of the camp, Dr Lynch-Watts stated “The children had a lot of fun and learned that the more they take care of themselves, the longer they can live and contribute more to society, and be good examples to their friends.”


Some participants at the Wee Fit Camp

During the exercise to demonstrate how to make different types of healthy snacks, Ms Yvonne Lewis, Director Health Education at the Ministry of Health stated “We want to reverse the current high rate of 1 in 4 children being overweight or obese. To teach our children how to choose healthy foods to eat. Children influence the choices parents make, so we want to teach them that eating healthy is fun, and taste good too!  We want children to begin to express a desire to their parents for healthy snacks also”. 


Ms Lewis added “We also worked with the children’s parents to ensure they understood the health risks of an overweight or obese child.  In the Caribbean we think that a chubby child is a healthy child.  We helped them to understand what a healthy weight is for their child.  The nutritionists also spent time with the parents to provide guidance on how to reduce their child’s weight.” 


Ms Lewis also reminded the parents of the children at the Wee Fit Camp that attaining a healthy weight also includes incorporating some physical activity.  “We would like to see more families out exercising and getting some sort of physical activity together.  All throughout Trinidad and Tobago there is a recreational area somewhere.  Just be active with your children. Take them out and have fun together.”

CJ Gonzales works out with a trainer as part of the Wee Fit Camp activities

C J Gonzales, a 14 year old who attended the Wee Fit Camp, shared “Since I joined the Wee Fit Clinic I stopped eating everything I used to eat.  However at the camp I learned I could eat these things, but once in a while. They also taught us to eat a lot of fruits. I felt comfortable at the camp, instead of being around others who will make fun of people because they are “thick”.  I also learnt that when you are “thick” you can do anything that any ordinary person can do.  I learnt I can make healthy stuff like smoothies, and have apples, bananas and fruit salads.  From what I just saw I could be making these things and make a better life for me.  I thought I would have been afraid to come here, but its people just like me and I can mix with them.”

The children at the Wee Fit Camp learn how to make healthy snacks.

The Ministry of Health calls on all nationals to join its Fight The Fight – T&T Wellness Revolution today.  Visit your community health centre for free health screening checks for Height/Weight (BMI), Blood Sugar, Cholesterol and Blood Pressure, free advice on how to maintain a healthy weight for you and your family members, and free advice on how to eat healthy.  The Ministry also calls on all nationals to not smoke or drink alcohol and to exercise regularly, for at least 30 minutes, 3-5 times a week. 

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