Expert: target schools in diabetes fight
Bermuda missed the chance to head off an obesity and diabetes epidemic decades ago, a former government head of physical education has claimed.
John Moreby, who worked with the Department of Education for more than 20 years before he retired in 1995, said the island “could have solved it 20 or 30 years ago”.
Mr Moreby added: “It’s essential that we keep trying.”
He said he had tried to introduce a “fitness for life” programme across the public school system in 1990.
He explained his programme was “school based and would have involved the measurement of body fat and doing very basic exercise and keeping track of where it got us”.
Mr Moreby added: “I was very keen, as were one or two teachers. I went around all the schools and talked to principals.”
The programme, also backed by Betsy Baillie, a health department dietitian, would have required teachers to supervise a daily 15 minute exercise session.
Mr Moreby said it was “very simple stuff that everybody could do, such as walking and skipping rope”.
But he added: “The union got involved and said that it would have to have qualified physical education teachers.
“In our last meeting, I told them they had condemned a generation of children to an early death.
“Society was changing, and this is one of the results. Children were not getting the exercise they needed, and we didn’t do enough to make sure it was provided in other ways. Here we are today.”
Ms Baillie praised the healthy schools programme, launched in 1996, but said the battle against the problems of obesity and diabetes needed a commitment to regular exercise.
She said: “They have done a fabulous job. The problem is, health education and physical education don’t get the level of attention that they need in the school curriculum.”
She added: “Daily exercise would be ideal. Reversing diabetes and obesity can be done, but it’s difficult and needs to be sustained.”
Ms Baillie, now retired, was among the guests at a recent lecture by Bernard Zinman, a top Canadian diabetes researcher brought to the island by the Bermuda Diabetic Association.
The trip was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, a United States healthcare company which is a specialist in the disease. Ms Baillie said: “Dr Zinman explained how people can lose weight and keep it off for a few years but then put it on again.
“Where we need to focus is on stopping obesity in the first place. We could make physical education and health into core subjects, but there needs to be a change in our mindset.”
Ms Baillie admitted that teachers “already have a ton of things to fit into the day”.
But she said: “It’s about priority. If we’re serious, we need to start down there at an early age. It’s too late when people are out of school. It’s got to be the culture of the school.”
A paper by Dr Zinman in The Journal of Nutrition in 2005 said First Nations peoples in Canada had been hard hit by diabetes.
The paper added the adoption of healthy lifestyles and exercise in First Nations schools in Canada had been successful.
Debbie Jones, executive director of the island’s diabetes association, said the group had been “highly encouraged” by Dr Zinman’s work.
She added: “You can almost indoctrinate children with the message that health is important. Children who have been through this programme are actually wanting to be healthier.”
Ms Jones said that many schools were “pushing the health message”.
But she added: “It’s policy, not legislated. We need everybody to be into it. That’s where governments have to jump in.”
The island’s sugar tax, designed to help curb healthcare costs, was implemented at the start of the month.
The introduction of the tax came after Annabel Fountain, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist, warned that 74 per cent of the island’s adult population was overweight or obese — and that diabetes and complications from complications of the disease were rising “exponentially”.
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