MAJ talks health in schools

Observer writer

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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NORMAN Manley High School students were last Tuesday schooled by doctors from the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) on how to lead healthier lives.

In fact, the students have said they intend to share what they learnt in the session with their relatives so they, too, can lead healthier lives.

MAJ representatives' visit to the Kingston high school was part of the association's effort to increase awareness about obesity among Jamaicans, a topic that is also the focus of its three-day symposium at Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston, which ends today.

“We talked about healthy lifestyles and how they can avoid getting obese, or how to control obesity, “ consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Clive Lai told the Jamaica Observer after the session. “We spoke about diet and we looked at the sugars in the drinks and in the food that you eat.

“Of course, we encouraged physical activity and how important it is to read the nutrition labels, and I think the children got the message,” he said.

The students, who were selected from grades nine to 11 to attend the MAJ session, did in fact get the message, as they listened attentively to Dr Lai last Tuesday.

Holding up an empty two-litre bottle, Dr Lai warned the students that by drinking the entire sugar-sweetened contents of a bottle that size, they would have consumed 52 teaspoons of refined sugar. This, he said, is over 30 additional teaspoons of sugar than what their bodies require for the entire day.

The sugar content demonstration in the MAJ president's presentation was what stood out to food, nutrition and health teacher Suzette Powell-Douglas, who told the Observer that it reinforced content that students would have been exposed to in her classes.

In the meantime, ninth-grade student and netball player Shanelle Bentley said she plans to pass on the lessons she learnt on Tuesday.

“I have learnt that when I train for netball I should drink water, because I am always drinking a soda after training,” Shanelle shared. “When I drink water it won't cause me to slow down, but to keep going.

“When school is [dismissed] I will be talking to my teammates about what I have learnt so that they, too, can change their eating habits,” she continued. “I am also going to tell my mother to cut down on the the sugar she puts in the juices she makes.”

Arlando Whitely, a grade 10 student, also told the Observer that he will be advising his family to cut back on their sugar intake so that they do not become overweight or obese.

While speaking to editors and reporters at last week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Dr Lai had said that the MAJ plans to target students, as one in every 10 Jamaican children is either overweight or obese.

“We want to promote a healthy lifestyle among our population and it starts with the schoolchildren,” Dr Lai pointed out. “These days they do not play as much as we used to; they are more on their computers and tablets and they are not very active.”

Yashen Smallwood, registered nurse at Norman Manley High School, told the Observer that she thought MAJ coming into the school to speak to children was a very important initiative. According to the school nurse, the initiative will help students to become more aware of ways to prevent obesity rather than needing to be treated for conditions associated with being obese and overweight afterwards.

“The more information they have is the more primary care we are able to give, rather than secondary care — so we want to prevent rather than cure,” she said.

Commenting on the nutritional value of the meals students are served at canteens, Smallwood said: “The thing is they are into easier, quicker rather than nutrition. That's the problem we have all over, not just in our schools.

“It's in our homes; but in the long run, it's more expensive,“ she continued. “People are looking at what is practical and convenient, but not healthy and well.”

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