Efforts to give the children of the British Virgin Islands a healthier start in life have received a significant boost with a ground-breaking initiative aimed at raising their level of nutrition and physical activity.
Since October 2015 hundreds of primary school pupils in the country’s 15 public schools have been benefiting from a behaviour change intervention designed to instill the knowledge and skills necessary to adopt healthy lifestyles.
Five daily targets
Implemented by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the programme promotes five targeted daily behaviours including: consuming a wide variety of foods; eating breakfast, fruits and vegetables; reducing intake of fats, salts and sugary snacks and drinks; and engaging in physical activity.
Schools are encouraged to find creative ways of reinforcing positive changes, such as healthy lunch contests, walking and cycling clubs, adventure outings and the development of school gardens.
Baseline data was collected from students before the programme started. Their weight, height, blood pressure, flexibility, endurance, strength, and body composition were measured. Additional information on knowledge, attitude and behaviour in relation to physical activity and nutrition is also being captured.
Listen to the British Virgin Islands Government Information Service programme on the collection of the data
Creating supportive environments
The programme will involve school-wide promotional activities, and creating supportive environments at school, at home and in the community.
“Students will be able to make better choices. The programme will help them to understand that having a healthy lifestyle is part diet and part physical activity.” Mrs. Shaniqua Henley-Vanterpool, Teacher
So far a number of teachers are pleased with how things are going. Mrs. Shaniqua Henley-Vanterpool, of the Ivan Dawson Primary School says, “I think it is a good initiative. Students will be able to make better choices. The programme will help them to understand that having a healthy lifestyle is part diet and part physical activity.”
Ms. Leticia Leonard Robinson of the O’Neal Memorial Primary School added, “It is a very good intervention to get parents, teachers, stakeholders and the community to help prevent childhood obesity and encourage the eating of a variety of food from all of the food groups.”
The British Virgin Islands has a serious problem with childhood obesity and inactivity. A 2009 survey of high schools students found that nearly 40% were overweight and almost 20% obese. 64% of students said they drank carbonated beverages one or more times a day and only a quarter did enough exercise.
The Healthy Lifestyles school intervention initiative receives technical and financial support from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).