Nearly two in five Cayman Islands children are overweight or obese by the time they reach school age, according to Health Services Authority research.
How are our schools tackling the issue?
“We very much mirror the trends that we are seeing globally,” said HSA Dietician Simone Sheehan.
The numbers paint a staggering picture of childhood obesity in Cayman. A 2013 HSA study found 16% of children ages four to six are overweight, with another 18% obese.
The numbers are similar for kids aged 10 to 13, said Ms. Sheehan.
“In 2012, we found that 19% of the children were overweight and 18% of the children were obese entering the high school system here in the Cayman Islands,” she said.
“We have various standards, indicating that they must provide at least one high fiber starchy or whole-grain food every day for example,” said Mark Ray, Head of Business Services with the Department of Education Services.
Mr. Ray said these standards are in place for government schools’ third-party canteen providers.
“When they submit tenders to participate in those bids to provide meals, they have to adhere to these standards,” he said. “We do checks from the department side to make sure that the standards are being adhered to.”
These standards include limiting fried foods and ensuring fruits and vegetables are a part of every meal.
“Physical activity is a big part of it,” added Ms. Sheehan.
She said screen time has also been identified as a major contributor to obesity, prompting the World Health Organisation to issue new guidelines.
“Children under one should have no screen time, children between two and five should have less than an hour a day, and children greater than five should have less than two hours a day,” Ms. Sheehan told Cayman 27.
Mr. Ray said the curriculum emphasises life skills like learning to decipher often complex food labels.
“It’s a matter of students themselves understanding what the labels are saying and understanding some of the decisions that they have to make,” said Mr. Ray.
DES said the nutritionist also engages parents at PTA meetings about making healthy food choices when students are not in school.