All of us are more than likely aware that we should live healthy lifestyles – eat right, exercise regularly, maintain average body weight, etc. But for whatever reason, that’s easier said than done for many of us. There is the desire to overeat, a lack of discipline to adopt an exercise routine and not to mention, the stress that comes with dealing with the vicissitudes of life! Fact is, this all can be extremely challenging and result in risk factors that lead to persons being afflicted with chronic diseases. There continues to be increasing concern about this, in particular the fear of being afflicted.
Coordinator for Health Promotion Services in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Ms. Ivy George, speaking with VI Life & Style Magazine, noted that many have the opinion that chronic diseases are synonymous with old age and it’s not so. She said people can intentionally, by adopting a healthy lifestyle, delay the onset of chronic diseases. Ms. George said the Ministry recognized the need and opportunity to assist persons in living healthy lifestyles and has developed a programme which will serve as a road map to help prevent chronic diseases.
The four (4) Non-Communicable Diseases NCDs that cause most illnesses, disabilities and deaths are cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and strokes), some cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs are caused by a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors and these diseases continue to rise due to rapid urbanization, globalization of unhealthy lifestyles and aging.
Ms. George pointed out that it is well documented that a combination of environmentally individual and population targeted interventions can prevent, arrest and even reverse the modifiable risk factors of most NCDs. The four (4) modifiable behavioural risk factors – unhealthy diet (high fat, salt and sugar intake and processed foods), physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco and use/exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke – are the underlying causes of metabolic changes in the body. These modifiable risk factors, if not arrested, will result in high blood sugar, overweight/obesity and high blood cholesterol, which if not halted, controlled or reversed, can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and related complications. Cardiovascular disease includes conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease.
The World Health Organization WHO and other leading health agencies advocate that 80% of heart disease, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 40% of cancers are preventable.
Back in 2009, the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Government of the Virgin Islands conducted an NCD Risk Factor Survey to determine the levels and kinds of risk factors in the adult population in the Territory.
“The survey concluded that both males and females were at increased risk of NCDs with almost 45% of the men and 46% of the women having three or more risk factors for chronic disease,” Ms. George revealed.
She said the Ministry then developed a ten (10) year NCD reduction and prevention strategy entitled, “Toward a Healthier Virgin Islands.” This plan includes a variety of interventions to address various aspects of the problem at the national, institutional, local or community level.
“We hope that interventions move beyond mere knowledge and behavioural change,” she declared.
The initiative being implemented is the Complete Health Improvement Programme (CHIP), developed in 1986 by Dr. Hans Diehl, Clinical Professor for Prevention Medicine at Loma Linda University in California, USA. This is a premier lifestyle education intervention programme that focuses on preventing, arresting and reversing chronic diseases.
In October 2019, 23 community members from Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke were certified to be able to administer the programme and they are now being prepared to begin implementation in the first quarter of this year.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development is calling on residents to take part in the programme.
Ms. George said in order to guarantee the effectiveness and sustainability of the intervention, the Ministry is seeking partnerships from businesses, services clubs, NGOs, faith-based organizations, community associations and the media.
“The long-term goal is for the programme to become a civil society bottom-up movement with vigorous advocacy capacity,” she said. “Without this type of action, many of the environmental policies and legislation changes that are needed to make healthy choices easier will be much more difficult.”
The intervention emphasizes two modifiable risk factors: daily physical activity and nutrition – the eating of more natural foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and drinking water instead of sugary drinks.
Ms. George pointed out that when the programme is adhered to, participants will experience the following outcomes:
“This programme covers the lifestyle changes risk factors and the ultimate aim is to change behavioural patterns so that we can prevent and reverse NCDs,” she concluded.
For more information, please contact the Health Promotion Unit of the Ministry of Health and Social Development.