Project Coordinator from the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, Christine Bocage who addressed a gathering of Education Officials and students to report the findings of the three-year project, said physical exercise was one of the main ingredients that would be required if children are to become healthier.
In addition, Ms Bocage stated that 22.5% percent of students in the study cohort seemed to be lacking knowledge of how to eat healthy and to balance their schedules to include activities that would enhance their lifestyles. She added that while a majority of students willingly stated that high-fat, fried foods may not be good for their health; they added that they love to eat it and do so frequently.
The project targeted students from form one, over the three-year period, promoting the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviours with emphasis on the improvement of dietary habits.
Ms. Bocage, who has worked with the CFNI for a number of years, said that an improvement of 2% in behavioural changes over the period was commendable given the difficulties associated with changing unhealthy habits in humans generally.
Recommendations for the schools included four main lifestyle interventions. These were the addition of a Behavioural Curriculum Component; physical activity; school-wide promotional activities as well as building supportive environments in schools.
Specific behaviours promoted among students in relation to food consumption and exercise were: eating a variety of foods daily; reducing salty and fatty foods, sugars and snacks as well as engaging in at least sixty minutes of exercise, five days a week.
Ms. Bocage highlighted her belief that the promotion of healthy lifestyles should start at the primary school level, given the fact that some 19.5% of students were overweight at the start of the study in First Form (the highest percentage in the region among islands in which it was conducted).
The study was carried out during the period 2007 – 2011. The coordinator said there were many lessons learnt and challenges experienced in terms of the availability of students during certain times of year such as sports and examination time.
She added however that this caused the CFNI and local coordinator Jacqueline Fleming to have to tweak the project to accommodate the students the implementation team of teachers.
Ms. Bocage said some of the most valuable assistance came from teachers of subjects such as Science and Mathematics which was a plus, due to the nature of the project which emphasized an all-inclusive approach to behavioural change.