Originally published April 17, 2021 in the Barbados Advocate.
By Regina Selman Moore
The spotlight was recently placed on the level of inactivity amongst school-aged children and adolescents, and the need to create greater opportunities for them to have access to physical activity to benefit their physical health and mental well-being.
The matter was up for discussion as the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) and Healthy Caribbean Youth (HCY), in partnership with the Caribbean Sport and Development Agency, held a joint special webinar entitled, “Cultivating Healthy School Environments - Exploring Physical Activity Opportunities.”
The webinar was a continuation of the HCC’s “The Future Talks” virtual miniseries, featuring young voices from Barbados and the Caribbean region. The webinar brought together a diverse group of panellists to discuss cultivating active environments within and outside of schools.
Delivering introductory remarks, Executive Director of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), Maisha Hutton, acknowledged the negative outcomes of physical inactivity and hence the need to reverse this trend.
“Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for NCDs (non-communicable diseases) and we know that when we increase physical activity, there are tremendous health benefits, both physical health benefits and mental health benefits as well,” she commented.
Hutton meanwhile noted that the unacceptably low levels of physical activity amongst young people was highlighted in a recent letter produced by the HCC and paediatricians from across the region, given that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this problem, leading to individuals having much more sedentary lifestyles.
The HCC’s executive director also acknowledged the key role school environments can play in shaping behaviour amongst children and adolescents, particularly in the area of physical activity.
The webinar was conducted in two parts. The first segment was moderated by Danielle Walwyn, HCC Advocacy Officer, who also stressed the benefits of physical activity in the school setting. The panel consisted of Launee Richards, a physical education teacher from Antigua and Barbuda; Taahir Bulbulia, Barbados’ Ambassador to the International University Sport Federation and Danielle Treasure, a Sixth Form Student who swims competitively for Barbados. The panellists discussed challenges in engaging and facilitating physical activity opportunities in schools before and during COVID, as well as innovative solutions to get students moving during PE and throughout the school day.
During the second half, moderated by Christopher Laurie, a health & wellness advocate who works with the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados, a key focus was a presentation by Dr. Colette Cunningham-Myrie from the Department of Community Health and Psychiatry at the UWI, Mona, Jamaica campus. She highlighted the need to implement strong and effective health policies which can target schools and communities, to ensure youth have environments which are conducive to them being active.