Who will take responsibility?

obesityIt has often been said that in St Vincent and the Grenadines we take too many things for granted. In many instances we also presume that some of the issues we read or hear about would not happen here because we are blessed.
The fact is that we do need to pay more attention to what is happening around us if we wish to survive and also leave a legacy of substance for successive generations.
Over the years we have belaboured the fact that we need to adopt a new approach to life in St Vincent and the Grenadines. We now wish to say that we want to spend time developing physical literacy in this country.
We focus much of our time on literacy in respect of being able to read, write and express ourselves. Now we need to make up for lost time by engaging in the pursuit of physical literacy, addressing our physical well being through a range of programmes and activities.
There is growing concern in the Caribbean about the extensive nature of obesity amongst the population, especially among our children.
As we seek to improve our lifestyles unfortunately we adopt the most debilitating examples of behaviour we see on our television screens. The appeal of the advertisements relative to what we should eat and drink is such that our parents readily yield to their children’s demands for these products that we know to be unhealthy.
It was not too long ago that our government boasted that it was addressing the impact of soft drinks on the nation’s children by imposing taxes on them. At the same time we adopted, or seemed ready to adopt, a leading role in the fight against non communicable diseases (NCD) and chronic non communicable diseases (CNCD). It was our Prime Minister that called on CARICOM to wage a war on these diseases by ushering in a Wellness Revolution.
Of course the parameters of precisely what constitutes a Wellness Revolution are yet to be clearly defined and hence the Caribbean continues to rush headlong into increased deaths due to illnesses and diseases that should readily be avoided by engaging our population in adopting healthy lifestyles.
Obesity is one of the most overt problems confronting our respective societies in the Caribbean yet we seem unwilling to appropriately address it.
It is observable that many of our parents choose to ignore paying due attention to what they give their children to eat if only because they are themselves also eating just as much without due caution to the consequences.
Increasingly we witness people who are clearly overweight hustling on afternoons hoping to experience significant weight loss through exercise. However many of these same persons fail to sustain the exercise programmes and readily find themselves swinging from one weight to another in rapid-fire time like the proverbial pendulum.
We have several gyms in existence. They work on helping those who have found it necessary to come to them for one reason or another. They can attest to the fact that many persons readily join but stay only for a brief period. They cannot sustain the training regimen recommended by the physical trainers attached to the institutions.
It is not easy to redress obesity merely by physical exercise. It has to be accompanied by dietary control.
No one is ever anxious to take blame for the matter of obesity that is on the increase in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment has been following the regular education approach but this has never been sufficiently expansive and attractive enough to make have the desired impact.
There is much concern in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the heavy backpacks that our school children are asked to bear to school each day of the week.
For five consecutive days each week our children are saddled with loaded bags on their backs.
Little time has been spent giving consideration to the impact that bearing these heavy bags on a daily basis have on the children.
There is evidence to suggest that heavy backpacks create problems. One source suggests…some kids have backaches because they’re lugging around their entire locker’s worth of books, school supplies, and assorted personal items all day long. But most doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs…
When a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with books, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backward. To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight might cause some kids to develop shoulder, neck, and back pain.
Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder — as many do, because they think it looks better or just feels easier — may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck.
Improper backpack use can also lead to poor posture. Girls and younger kids may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they’re smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight.
Also, backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.
It is unfortunate that we in St Vincent and the Grenadines have not addressed this matter before.
Teachers have timetables and ought to be able to assist parents in ensuring that the children are taking to school in their backpacks only the essential books to be used on any given day. It is useless to have children carrying around books that they would not necessarily use on any given day simply because the teachers are uncertain as to which texts they may use.
We do need to be concerned about this phenomenon since by the time the children’s postures have changed no one may be willing to accept responsibility for the irreparable damage.
Physical Literacy
There is a new wind blowing in St Vincent and the Grenadines and it is captured in a new drive towards the development of a culture of physical literacy.
Physical literacy is the mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations (piseworld.com).
The University of Canberra Centre of excellence in Physical Literacy and Active Youth (CEPLAY) note… Physical literacy is a concept capturing:

  • The ability to move effectively;
  • The desire to move;
  • The perceptual abilities that support effective movement;
  • The confidence and assurance to attempt movement challenges;
  • The subsequent ability to interact effectively with their environment and other people.

Every individual should have right of access to physical literacy. All too often in St Vincent and the Grenadines we seem to believe that movement is axiomatic. We do not always take the time to recognise that movement must be learnt in the same way that we facilitate learning in the realm of general literacy.
Physical literacy is not about winning races or becoming proficient at football. It is about ensuring that everyone understands the importance of physical activity to an individual’s quality of life from the earliest years.
The University of Canberra notes… To ingrain physical literacy in the early years, …children must be supported in developing the ability to move proficiently, the confidence and willingness to try new activities, and an awareness of the importance of physical activity for health. In addition to enhanced lifelong health, physical activity in childhood has been shown to provide immediate short-term health benefits – both physical and mental – improved educational attainment, and enhanced life skills. These benefits also track into later life, such that physically active children are more likely to become active adults than sedentary ones, and physically inactive kids tend to become inactive adults. In short, physical literacy and active lifestyles allow children to be fitter, smarter, happier and healthier, for life.
Physical and Health Education Canada make the point… Individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.

  • Physically literate individuals consistently develop the motivation and ability to understand, communicate, apply, and analyze different forms of movement.
  • They are able to demonstrate a variety of movements confidently, competently, creatively and strategically across a wide range of health-related physical activities.
  • These skills enable individuals to make healthy, active choices that are both beneficial to and respectful of their whole self, others, and their environment.

There is reason to believe that as a nation we can do much better in respect of addressing the health of our people and locating physical literacy at the core in this regard.
We cannot continue to behave as though movement is automatically acquired at birth. We are responsible for the movements that our children adopt just as we are responsible for their posture.