Urbanization called a health risk to region

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: The price of progress is being charged to the health and well-being of the citizens of the Caribbean, according to international observers.

Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Resident Representative to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Dr. Gina Watson, says that urban settings are having an impact on the health of residents.

Speaking at a public health event in Bridgetown last week, Dr. Watson emphasized the need for city planners to develop walking paths and green areas within the city.

“Families in urban areas are much less likely to have access to arable land on which they can plant fruits, vegetables and ground provisions to provide nutritious meals…they are more likely to rely on ‘readably available fast food’ of low-nutritional value. All of these factors contribute to the higher rate of risk factors for chronic diseases,” Watson said while giving an address at the Lions and Leo Club of Barbados health fair, held in recognition of World Health Day.

Watson’s remarks followed the results of a study released by Regina Guthold of the World Health Organization in Geneva which reported that children in the Cayman Islands and St. Lucia are some of the least active in the world.

In the study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, Guthold and her team looked at 72,845 13- to 15-year-old schoolchildren from North and South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The children were surveyed between 2003 and 2007.

St. Lucia and the Cayman Islands were found to be the most sedentary nations with 58 per cent of boys and 64 per cent of girls spending at least three hours a day in sedentary activity.

The researchers defined adequate physical activity as at least an hour of exercise (outside of gym class) at least five days a week. Children who spent three or more hours watching TV, playing computer games, or chatting with friends (aside from time in school or time spent doing homework) were classified as sedentary.

Just one-quarter of the boys and 15 per cent of the girls were getting enough exercise by their definition, the researchers found. And a quarter of boys and nearly 30 per cent of girls were sedentary and didn’t get enough exercise.

Such risks have not escaped the scrutiny of Barbados’ Minister of Health Donville Inniss, who called for health issues to be incorporated fully into urban public policy to create healthier living conditions, especially for persons living and working in urban settings.

“Our national aspirations include the desire to continue to develop our physical infrastructure and to improve the social and economic conditions to a standard that will provide an optimum quality of life for all Barbadians. However, as we pursue these goals, our approach to urban development must ensure that health is incorporated more broadly into urban public policy.

“We are fortunate to live in a region of the world that has amenable climate conditions and we must create the opportunity to take advantage of our outdoor environment to improve our health and well-being,” said Inniss.

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