Diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are the leading causes of death and disability in Antigua & Barbuda. It has been proven that these diseases are linked to the way we live and eat.
Unhealthy lifestyles have led to an increase in obesity (being too fat). Currently over 60% of our adults in Antigua & Barbuda are obese or overweight. This condition is affecting more and more of our children as well. Obesity causes the onset of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, depression and many other illnesses.
The Medical Benefits Scheme and the Ministries of Health and Education have recognized that unless Antiguans and Barbudans live healthy lifestyles, the number of people who will be plagued with one or more of these diseases will continue to increase dramatically.
Children and Chronic Diseases
More and more children are being diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, conditions thought to only occur in older adults. These children will enjoy poorer quality of life as they become adults.
There is a way to arrest this trend. Healthy lifestyles will prevent the onset of these diseases or help keep these diseases under control in children already diagnosed. Eating healthily and regular physical activity are the keys to healthy living.
The School Outreach Programme seeks to educate children and their families about healthy nutrition and physical activity and their value in disease prevention and control. It also provides opportunities for students and families to learn and participate in meal planning, cooking and physical exercises empowering them to make better choices and live better lives.
The School Outreach Programme was piloted in March 2006 at the Greenbay Primary School and the St. Mary's Centre of Excellence. During the 2006 - 2007 school year, it was introduced at the All Saints Secondary School and the J.T. Ambrose School in All Saints.
The objectives are:
- To determine the population among students who have a chronic disease or at increased risk of developing a chronic disease
- To increase awareness among students and their parents of the risk of developing a chronic disease
- To increase awareness among students and parents of proper lifestyle choices to prevent or control a chronic disease
- To give parents and students the opportunity to participate in increased levels of physical activity.
The programme runs for one calendar year in each school. It has six phases.
Situational Analysis I: The gathering of socio- economic and health data on the communities surrounding the school. This information is sourced through interviews with teachers and health care providers, the Health Information Division, and the Department of Statistics in the Ministry of Finance and Economy.
Situational Analysis II: the gathering of biometric data on the students of the school and information on nutritional knowledge and practices. This information is gathered through measurements of each student, interviews with students, questionnaires, and focus group discussions.
Data Analysis: Through analysis of raw data, the students considered most at risk of developing or having a chronic disease may be identified and targeted for further intervention and guidance.
Intervention I: There are two forms of intervention. (i) Educational, where targeted students are taught more on health and nutrition; (ii) Exercise based, where all students are given the opportunity to participate in two extra hours of physical activity per week.
Intervention II: Again there are two forms of intervention for the parents of targeted students: (i) Educational: Parents and guardians are familiarized via an evening workshop, with the goal of the programme and are educated on health issues, proper food choices and the importance of exercise for them and their children: (ii) If committed, the parents may join evening exercise classes.
The determination of success of each objective is done through continuous monitoring and evaluation of each step in the programme.
Data Collection on Students
Each student of the school is screened for the following variables:
Added information also sought includes:
- Blood pressure
- Acnathosis nigricans (skin changes seen on the back of the neck that are linked to the development of diabetes.)
- Brief medical history
- Brief family history
- Medication use
- Food restrictions
- Exercise restrictions
Once this basic data has been analyzed, those students selected as being at risk of having or developing a chronic disease are screened further with follow up examinations and blood investigations. Parents are given copies of all test results. (Only children10 years and older are eligible for blood tests.)
Any child diagnosed or found to possibly have a serious illness will be referred to specialist paediatric services.
A series of six to eight lectures is presented to the sub targeted group of students identified as having risk factors for chronic disease. Each session lasts approximately half an hour using Power Point and other tools. Active participation by the students is expected.
Exercise Sessions for Students
The entire student population is invited (with the school's permission), to participate in physical activity sessions twice weekly at a time determined by the school's administrators.
Skilled exercise trainers lead exercise sessions with musical accompaniment.
Even after the completion of the lecture series, the exercise sessions will continue for the duration of the year.
The School Outreach Programme is fully endorsed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.