Vincentian health educator Harvey Farrell says his compatriots do not consume enough fruits and vegetables. (File photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – As the nation’s 30,000 students returned to the classroom on Monday, health educator Harvey Farrell noted that poor dieting among young Vincentians was resulting in a rise in chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs).

Farrell noted that poor eating habits could lead to obesity and then heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension.

He said that while these were traditionally diseases of the elderly, increasing numbers of young people have developed these conditions. “So, if our young persons are becoming obese at an earlier age, you can see the implications down the road,” he said on radio.

Farrell said that some Vincentians have adopted the fast food lifestyle of developed nations, resulting in a diet high in fat, salt, and sugar.

“Those three in combination really help to drive the instances of obesity,” he said, adding that Vincentian have also become less active.

Farrell said that unhealthy dieting among Vincentians is mainly a choice but acknowledged that fruits, and especially vegetables, are expensive in the multi-island tropical nation.

He, however, highlighted the importance of fruits and vegetable as part of a healthy diet.

“Nothing really can replace fruits and vegetables in our diet. It gives us he fibre we need for proper bowel movement and to aid in digestion. They also provide the antioxidants that will help to remove a lot of the toxins from food — because, there are poisons in food that will build up over time. They provide us with all the vitamins and minerals that we need for our bodies to function properly,” the health educator explained.

He further said that a fruit is “just about the best snack you can have” and that children should be taught early to snack on fruits.

“From preschool years, let them pack a healthy snack to go to school. If they do that, by the time they get to primary school and secondary school, no matter who laughs at them, they would be so conditioned to that healthy snack that it will not bother them at all,” he said, acknowledging that students are often teased from having fruits in their lunch boxes.

Farrell also said that “breakfast remains the most important meal of the day” but said that each meal is important.

“If you visit a school and you hear them say, ‘We have high incidences of children fainting at school, crying for tummy aches and so on’, these are the children who normally don’t take breakfast. So you have to be very [mindful] of that,” he said.

Farrell said that as far as food is concerned, persons should begin their day with a glass of water, followed by a fruit shortly after. He said that the “more colourful the breakfast the better”, explaining that it should include fruits and vegetables in addition to whole grain cereals, including farine.

Parents, Farrell said, should expose their children to a variety of vegetables, since children might not like one vegetable but might take to another.

He was at the time discussing activities to be held as the nation joins the region in celebration Caribbean Wellness Day on Saturday.

Health care officials in Kingstown, Farrell said, were drafting a wellness policy that attempts to address what children are offered at school, including by the tuck-shop and vendors.

Ministry of Health statistics shows that in the five years ending 2009, on average 10 per cent of Vincentian children less than five years old were each year deemed obese, according local health standards.  A further 4 per cent were moderately overweight and 1.5 per cent were severely underweight.

The Ministry of Health also on Monday launched a strategic programme aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of Vincentians.

Health Minister Cecil McKie, speaking at that separate event, said the programme would emphasise the reduction of CNCDs in SVG.