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December 2008 Edition

Healthy Living
Caribbean Celebrates First Wellness Day

Participants in a heart-healthy walk pose for a group photo in Jost Van Dyke, the British Virgin Islands.
Photo courtesy Jost Van Dyke CWD Coordinating Committee, BVI
Hundreds of thousands of people in 14 Caribbean countries took steps to live longer, healthier lives during celebrations of the first-ever Caribbean Wellness Day, Sept. 13.

The high-profile event was kicked off by heads of government, ministers of health, and other dignitaries. It included scores of activities in dozens of communities promoting physical activity, healthy eating, and greater awareness about chronic disease control and treatment and the links between healthy living, risk factors, and longer, healthier lives.

"I want to kick off this day by recommending a series of specific steps everyone in the Caribbean can and should take every day to add years to their lives," said Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Mirta Roses in a commentary published for the occasion. "You can participate in today's Caribbean Wellness Day and start the habit of doing these things every day and live as much as 14 years longer."

The chief target audience was adults 40 and over who currently engage in little or no physical activity. The key message was: you can live a longer, healthier life by following a few key pointers: don't smoke, consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, eat more fruits and vegetables and less salt and fat, and exercise at least 30 minutes per day (see below)

Wellness Day LogoPlanning for the event involved collaboration between the subregion's ministries of health and sports, chambers of commerce, local governments, and civil society groups.

"This was a good example of the kind of multisector partnerships and synergy among the public and private sectors and civil society that is essential to spur behavior change on a large scale," said James Hospedales, PAHO's senior advisor on prevention and control of chronic diseases.

PAHO was also an active participant in planning for the event. PAHO partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to sponsor a workshop in Port-of-Spain,Trinidad and Tobago, lastMay on "Promoting Physical Activity in the Caribbean." PAHO also helped develop the Caribbean Wellness Day logo and slogan--"Love that Body!"--and produced posters and a video on "Heart Health" for use during the event and in ongoing wellness campaigns in its member countries.

A Barbadian senior gets screened for hypertension.
A Barbadian senior gets screened for hypertension. Photo by Andy Taitt/PAHO
Among the many activities that took place around the subregion on Caribbean Wellness Day were:

In Anguilla, a walk-a-thon and a health fair.

In Barbados, a city health fair attended by thousands and featuring free exercise routines; screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar; samples of healthy foods and drinks made with local produce; and street performances related to health and wellness.

In Belize, a family fun walk and 10-K run through Belize City, kicked off by Minister of Health Pablo Marin. Also, blood glucose, hypertension, and body mass (BMI) screening for some 300 people at a national trade show.

In the British Virgin Islands, a multiisland "Heart Healthy Walk" kicked off by Minister of Health Dancia Penn.

In Dominica, a health walk led by members of parliament for thousands of their constituents, and a special "Presidents-11" cricket match for political leaders, with 5,000 spectators cheering them on.

In Guyana, a fitness march and rally and Family Fun Day, with keynote messages by Minister of Health Leslie Ramsammy and PAHO/WHO Representative Kathleen Israel.

In Jamaica, a health festival in downtown Kingston featuring, among other things, blood pressure and glucose screening, Pap smears, foot care, and health-food presentations by PAHO's Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute. Also a 5-K walk/run and physical activity demonstrations.

In St. Kitts and Nevis, a "Walk for Health" led by Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, plus events promoting walking, cycling, jogging, and aerobics, and wellness messages carried by electronic and print media.

Residents of Bridgetown, Barbados, take a free aerobics class.
Residents of Bridgetown, Barbados, take a free aerobics class. Photo by Andy Taitt/PAHO
In St. Lucia, a health fair featuring, among other things, screening for BMI, hypertension, and blood sugar; health consultations and advice from trained nurses; and Pap smears for women.

In Suriname, 2.5 kilometers of city streets declared "car-free zones" for walking and biking.Also, break dancing, line dancing, judo, karate, taekwando, Thai boxing, football and hoop shooting, and exercises for the elderly, plus BMI and blood sugar screening, nutrition information, and health promotion messages on radio and TV and in print.

In Trinidad and Tobago, city streets closed to traffic and transformed into wellness zones where people could walk, ride, skate, wheel and otherwise "move for health," as well as get screened for blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Partners for the events included the Ministry of Health, PAHO, and the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce.

Caribbean Wellness Day was proposed in the Declaration of Port-of-Spain, issued at the end of the historic CARICOM Heads of State Summit on chronic diseases in Trinidad and Tobago in September 2007.The declaration also called on all Caribbean countries to develop "comprehensive plans for the screening and management of chronic diseases and risk factors so that, by 2012, 80 percent of people with noncommunicable chronic diseases would receive quality care and have access to preventative education based on regional guidelines."

Canada's Public Health Agency supported preparatory work for both the Heads of State Summit and Caribbean Wellness Day.

Life-saving steps

Caribbean Wellness Day's "Love that Body" campaign promoted four basic steps that everyone can take to add up to 14 healthy years to their lives:

Exercise 30 minutes per day. Physical activity improves glucose metabolism, reduces body fat, and lowers blood pressure--all of which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It may also reduce the risk of colon and breast cancers and can improve musculoskeletal health, control body weight, and reduce symptoms of depression.

Eat more fruits and vegetables, less salt and fat. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Consuming less fat--especially trans fats and fats from animal sources--helps maintain a healthy body weight and improves cardiovascular health. Buying low-salt processed foods and not adding salt during cooking or at the table helps maintain healthy blood pressure.

Stop smoking or don't start. Tobacco is the only product that kills when used as directed by the manufacturer. Up to 50 percent of regular users will die from smoking-related illness.

Consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Besides the direct effects of intoxication and addiction, heavy alcohol use increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease, and some cancers.

In addition to these tips, it's important to get one's blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol checked regularly, and for women to get cervical cancer screening each year. It's also important to keep taking any medications one's doctor has prescribed.