Obese Mauritian children set off alarm bells

The runaway popularity of fast foods is blamed for increased obesity in Mauritian children. PHOTO  FILE

Mauritius is planning a crack down on unhealthy eating habits after studies found a significant number of its children are overweight, posing a major health challenge for the picturesque island nation of 1.3 million.

The government has now called for a comprehensive study into current and future trends in order to craft strategies to counter obesity.

Health minister Lormus Bundhoo said that available statistics showed that child obesity was a grave health issue and needed to be tacked immediately.

"Strategies to deal with obesity must start at a time when it can be most effective, that is in the formative years of our children who are the future members of society. Our actions should start at schools," Mr Bundhoo said.

Mr Bundhoo said the government would work with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to develop preventive strategies.

"Developing effective partnerships is the key to this strategy. Together we need to step up our efforts...so that our children can grow up to be active and healthy adults."

Results from the government's Global School-based Health survey carried out in 2011 found that 28 per cent of children aged 6-19 years were overweight or obese.

Only 19 per cent of students assessed were physically active for at least one hour daily, while 39 per cent spent three or more hours every day on sedentary activities.

Government projections suggest by end year over 30 per cent will be overweight, up from 16 per cent in 2004.

Increasing fast food intake and high carbohydrate meals with excess fat and mineral content are being blamed, coupled with sedentary lifestyles such as the popularity of computer games and the rise of social networking sites.

WHO statistics say that in 2010, the number of overweight children below the age of 5 was estimated at 42 million; 35 million in developing countries.

"Juvenile obesity is one of the most severe public health challenges of the 21st century, affecting largely low and middle-income countries, predominantly in metropolitan settings," WHO Liaison Officer to Mauritius Ramesh Munbodh said in a press statement.

Women's healthcare

Meanwhile the Mauritian government will look to build hospitals and clinics exclusively for women's health needs.

“A hospital devoted solely to women’s health care is required as women have distinctive health care needs that require special attention, particularly in cases of breast and cervical cancers and reproductive health," prime minister Navin Ramgoolam said.

"I have asked an eminent British doctor to look into the setting up of hospitals specialising in healthcare for women and to provide consultancy on the matter," he said, but did not disclose the identity of the medic.

Recent statistics from the Ministry of Finance show that more funds has been directed towards advancing the health care sector.

"However achieving economic growth is a prerequisite for government to pursue project funding in this sector. About 8.5 per cent of the national budget, that is some Rs40 million ($1,326,699) was directed to the health sector for the present year," he added.

However, Mr Ramgoolam’s recent remarks have not gone without criticism from unionists, notably from the Nurses Association of Mauritius which says discrimination against women in the health sector is rife, coupled with poor sanitary conditions and low pay in hospitals.



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