Mon | Jan 27, 2020

Kayakers take to the seas to raise awareness about the dangers of lifestyle diseases

Published:Thursday | November 15, 2018 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Kayaker Jae Edwards (left) and teammate, Dwayne Fields of Spry Training, taking their watercraft to the sea. They are kayaking around Jamaica to bring awareness to the impact of non-communicable diseases.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have emerged as the leading cause of death in Jamaica over the past 30 years, and while there has been an explosion of initiatives geared towards addressing the issue, one team of kayakers have taken to the seas in a literal way to try and raise awareness about deaths because of the lack of exercise and poor nutrition.

Jae Edwards and his teammate Dwayne Fields of Spry Training Fitness are hoping to draw the attention of the public by circumnavigating Jamaica in kayaks.

The 370 miles journey has, so far, taken team Spry Training from the Kingston Harbour to Montego Bay, nearly halfway around the country since they departed Kingston on October 20, kayaking in a counter clockwise direction.

"We decided to embark on this kind of effort because the figures show that 14 people die every day in Jamaica due to lifestyle illnesses - hypertension, diabetes, or heart disease. It's happening," said Edwards.

"I recently lost my mother-in-law to a heart condition. Now the problem is that a lot of people you talk to in Jamaica are emotional about how they live their lives. They eat things because they feel like eating it, no matter what it does to them, and they also choose not to exercise because it's uncomfortable. Among the masses, that's what we have found."

Edwards explained that accomplishing something unusual like kayaking around the country to get people's attention is a worthy endeavour.

"We are trying to make people recognise that if we can row 12 hours a day, then they can exercise for half an hour a day, because doing so could be the big difference between a longer, healthier life, and sudden death," he said.

He mentioned that so far, the responses have been excellent, with several people committing to changing their diets.

"We have been meeting people, mainly fisherfolk, on our journey so far in different towns, and when we tell them of where we are coming from, they would sit and listen. So now that we have the nation's ear, we can tell them of the dangers, real serious dangers, of consuming certain kind of foods and still remain static. People need to start moving," he emphasised.

... Effective change must come from the top - Edwards

Jae Edwards of Spry Training Fitness believes that effective change must come from the top, and congratulated Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for the Jamaica Moves initiative. He and his teammate, Dwayne Fields, are on a mission to kayak around Jamaica to bring awareness to the dangers of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

"I have visited Copenhagen, Denmark, where the bicycle is the most common mode of transport. Everyone there is lean. These people ride bicycles everywhere they go. It's the same in Germany. It's all about the mindset. Those countries didn't just become like this overnight, though. It took a conscious decision and a plan. I am hoping that Jamaica gets there fast," stated Edwards.

Fields, a Jamaican, and the first black man to walk to the North Pole, said that it is vital that the country sees what's happening and make the necessary change.

"People back in my grandmother's time were living longer. Something has shifted, and it's all down to what we consume and how much of it we take in without exercising. Jamaica needs to start moving. It is essential because the country cannot fathom the amount of money it will cost in the future to deal with lifestyle diseases in our hospitals," stated Fields.

It is estimated that it will cost Jamaica approximately $77 billion over the next 15 years to treat people suffering from cardiovascular-related diseases and diabetes, two of the most common forms of lifestyle diseases affecting Jamaicans.