Jamaicans urged to get fit

Health official wants NCU exercise programme copied

BY RHOMA TOMLINSON Sunday Observer writer

Sunday, February 23, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — A senior Government medial officer is calling for a health revolution using exercise and fitness as its base, to protect Jamaicans from deadly lifestyle diseases.

Regional Technical Director for the Southern Regional Health Authority, Dr Michael Coombs said that most chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension and obesity are fuelled by inactivity.

He is urging companies and other entities across the island to follow the lead of Northern Caribbean University (NCU), which has invested in a million-dollar health and wellness exercise programme for its workers.

Coombs, who was speaking at a media briefing to highlight the university's 10,000 step programme last Wednesday, said that Jamaicans need a "national transformation" in their attitude to health, which should have exercise as its central theme.

"I've been very burdened about this. We used to instill healthy lifestyle practices from our children were knee-high. That's something that as a country we need to go back to ... we need to recognise this ... we must begin from how we parent our children," he said.

NCU's 10,000 step programme, which is to be officially launched this month, will see over 500 workers on the university's campus engaging in a 'walk 10,000 steps per day programme'. The miles walked will be measured by a pedometer, which is being given to the workers free of charge.

Health and wellness organisation, Sagicor, has come on board to cover the cost of the machines and help sponsor the programme, to the tune of $1.2 million.

Vice-president of University Relations, Yvonne Bignall said studies have shown that one of the major challenges facing workplaces is a new phenomenon called "presenteeism" which is "workers showing up for work but are not able to function optimally because they're ill." So in addition to being interested in individual health and wellness, "ensuring that our workers are well is good business sense, if nothing else", she said.

The NCU vice-president said that the university decided to start the programme, when a few years ago, research about the quality of health among the workforce revealed troubling signs. She said that the institution has since employed an on-campus physician and beefed up its health and wellness department.

NCU President Dr Trevor Gardner said that the university refused to merely sit around and wait for Jamaica's health situation to get better.

"The heritage of the Seventh-day Adventist church is deeply rooted in health. NCU has a commitment to that heritage. We anticipate that this partnership, this beginning, will make a difference, over time. Jamaica's health is going in the wrong way ... Jesus expects us to change what we can change, then he will come in and work miracles," Gardner said.

Coombs noted that a Strategic Control Plan for non-communicable diseases, which was recently approved by Cabinet, calls for all Jamaicans, not just the health sector, to take responsibility for the nation's health.

"It's critical to promote physical activity as everyone's responsibility," he said. "Inactivity is a major risk factor (for non-communicable diseases), according to the Jamaica Healthy Lifestyle survey, in 2000, 17.4 per cent of Jamaicans were physically inactive. In 2008, that doubled. Obesity moved from 19.7 per cent to 25.3 per cent," he said.

The technical director said that lifestyle diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer account for over 70 per cent of deaths in Jamaica each year, with over 36 million people dying globally.

Coombs said that there are over 20 health benefits which come from what he called "regular, appropriate, physical activity".





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