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Statement by Ambassador Irwin Larocque, Secretary-General Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the Occasion of Caribbean Wellness Day 13 September 2014

The celebration of Caribbean Wellness Day continually reminds us of that historic moment when our Heads of Government pioneered that significant policy initiative known as the Declaration of Port-of-Spain on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).  On the basis of scientific facts they raised their voices acknowledging that NCDs could imperil our economies like no other known health issue.

The Declaration has the unique distinction of casting a health problem as a development issue and this is fully recognized within the Five-Year Community Strategic Plan approved by Heads of Government last July.  One of the six integrated priorities of the Plan is building social resilience and a key strategy in achieving the goals of that priority is advancing initiatives for health and wellness.  

Our lifestyles in the last fifty years have changed significantly.  Urbanisation has meant that many of us now spend more than two hours daily commuting which has meant less time for physical exercise.  Reduced physical activity allied to bad eating habits are the main contributors to the unhealthy weight gain which has led to today’s citizens being at least 25 percent heavier than our populations a generation ago.  As a consequence obesity is the number one risk factor with respect to increasing the burden that NCDs can place on our societies and economies.  Promotion of healthier food choices is one way of beginning to tackle the burgeoning problem of obesity.

Whilst adult waistlines have grown, the threat to our children is even greater.  Cheap high energy unhealthy foods have almost displaced our indigenous cuisine.  A war now has to be waged to wean our children off these diets.  There is also a need to recognize that for our children there must be a balance between achieving academic excellence and taking part in organized physical activity.

I want to congratulate the latest of our CARICOM institutions, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for identifying childhood obesity as a priority health problem and an entry point for serious inter-sectoral policy collaboration.

As we celebrate this seventh anniversary under the theme, “the heart of a productive workforce is a healthy workforce”, I urge the Member States to re-double their efforts and commitment to implementing the Port-of-Spain Declaration and also implore our citizens to adopt healthier lifestyles.  Let us never forget that the health of the region is the wealth of the region.

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