Ham, cake, sorrel, pork and other goodies are among the food of choice which make Christmas special for children, but health professionals are urging Jamaicans to go easy on the servings to protect the well-being of these young ones.
As more Jamaican children are being diagnosed with lifestyle-related illnesses, unhealthy food choices this Christmas could come back to bite your child in the new year.
Figures obtained by The Sunday Gleaner from the Ministry of Health showed that 330 persons below the age of 20 sought medical treatment for the lifestyle-related illnesses of diabetes and hypertension in 2013. That included 125 persons who were diagnosed with these illnesses for the first time.
The figures were similar to those recorded in 2012, when 125 new cases of diabetes and hypertension were recorded in persons below the age of 20. That moved the total number of young people treated for those illnesses in 2012 to 226.
For Kirk Bolton, president of the Jamaica Association of Professionals in Nutrition and Dietetics, the consistency of the reported cases proves that Jamaicans are not paying enough attention to the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle by their children.
"The trend is clearly showing that these people are still practising this unhealthy lifestyle. They are still not doing a lot of physical activities that would help to curtail the incidences of diabetes and hypertension, which are a direct result of obesity," Bolton told The Sunday Gleaner.
TIME TO BE PROACTIVE
He argued that this Christmas is the right time for parents to become more proactive in ensuring that their children develop healthy eating habits, particularly when they are faced with a lot of food.
"We're not saying you can't give your children the food that we are accustomed to, but what we call for is moderation, so even though they might love ham, don't give them the ham every day, or try to reduce the amount of sweet sorrel drinks or sodas, along with the sweet Christmas cakes."
Bolton argued that simple alterations could be made to the traditional Jamaican diet that would augur well for better health among young persons or those suffering from lifestyle-related illnesses.
"It's more costly to treat hypertension and diabetes than to avoid it, because preventing it doesn't require major changes in diet," said Bolton.
"For example, instead of giving your children white bread, give them brown bread; instead of rice every day, prepare a sweet potato salad, which has a lot of fibre; instead of letting them drink the sodas and the sweet drinks, give them water."
Bolton is also suggesting changes in diet, such as eliminating fried foods and using coconut oil when cooking. He said parents needed to insist that their children engage in more physical activity while they are enjoying the Christmas break from school.
"We have always advised persons to take in at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. It doesn't mean you have to send them to the gym or the playing field to run up and down, but let them do some housework, let them take the stairs if they go out; instead of hiring a gardener to do the yard work, send them to do it, the physical activity is going to be good for them."
Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, is all for the idea of more physical activity for the children during the Christmas break as this is critical for good health, but he is also urging parents to use the holiday period to initiate healthy practices to their children.
"That's why we have to pay close attention to managing childhood obesity and preventing it," urged Alexis.
"For Christmas, I would encourage parents and persons staging parties or events for children to refrain from just putting out sweets and sweet drinks, but to start introducing them to fruits and putting out carrots or a salad and water for refreshment," added Alexis.
The medical doctor noted that children who develop these lifestyle diseases will not only have to live with them for their entire life, but could also face other physical and social problems because of their illnesses.
"Persons who are diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension during childhood are at a greater risk for developing complications - which could range from renal failure, decreased visual activity and cardiovascular disease - than adults who are diagnosed with the disease," said Alexis
"On the mental side, when these sick children see other children doing things that they are not able to do, it might lead to them getting depressed and their socialisation can be affected."