#ArtStudentsAgainstObesity – written by Charity Dublin, nutritionist and Healthy Caribbean Youth, Antigua and Barbuda and Nurse Valarie Williams, NCD Coordinator within the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Antigua and Barbuda.
The Caribbean is facing a public health disaster of epic proportions. If left unchecked, it can disrupt livelihoods, destroy families, burden economies, and devastate the future of our developing region. We are not talking about COVID-19 or natural disasters but rather childhood obesity. 1 in 3 Caribbean children is overweight or obese. This figure is alarming and, if the numbers were not frightening enough, there is a prediction that without effective policies, these figures will reach 50% by 2030. Our Caribbean children are in danger; our future as a healthy, productive, and sustainable region is at risk. The Healthy Caribbean Coalition’s Civil Society Action Plan 2017-2021 identifies school- and community-based interventions as a priority area for action.
Nurse Valarie Williams, NCD Coordinator within the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, was concerned when she heard the statistics. She decided to test this theory for herself. As Nurse Williams walked the streets of Antigua she observed children in uniform and silently counted “1,2,3..1,2,3…1,2,3..” and found that more often than not, even from casual observation, the statistics were true! Here in little Antigua, on narrow Market Street, she was confronted by the horrible truth. Most of our children were overweight or obese and, as such, at risk for the lifelong complications related to obesity and non-communicable diseases. Something had to be done to raise awareness and perhaps that something should directly involve those at risk.
The historic walls of the Antigua Girl’s High School are now home to a mural that highlights the issue of childhood obesity as well as advocates for healthy, supportive, nutrition-sensitive school environments.
#ArtStudentsAgainstObesity is a school-based intervention that seeks to draw attention to the dangers of childhood obesity, advocate for change within the school environment, and to help counteract the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to school children.
#ArtStudentsAgainstObesity is not just an art project. Prior to the main activity which took place from the 1st to 11th of December 2020, interactive sessions on healthy eating and lifestyle habits were held with the art students. Nurse Williams was impressed to hear the students voice their dissatisfaction with the unhealthy food and drinks sold on the school compound as well as the low availability of healthier options. These art students have become advocates for healthy eating among their peers.
The #ArtStudentsAgainstObesity mural was fittingly painted in the heart of the nation’s capital, on the exterior walls of the Antigua Girls High School. This mural is a visual call to action not from public health officials, but the students themselves. This mural is a cry from the students for all of Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Caribbean to hear. It is a call for decision-makers to increase efforts to STOP the obesity crisis facing such a vitally important segment of our population. This initiative has already begun to bear fruit. Plans are in place to expand the mural to directly advocate for a ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in the school environment. Excitingly, several other schools as well as the Performing Arts department of the Antigua Girls High School have expressed interest in participating in similar projects.
#ArtStudentsAgainistObesity may seem like a simple endeavor when compared to other initiatives taking place across the country and region; but with this project, we have a group of young people taking an active role in advocating for a healthier present and future. As we continue into the new year and beyond, I encourage you to, within your spheres, boldly and creatively advocate for effective policies that support the fight against childhood obesity. No action or project is too small. The future of our region depends on it.
#ArtStudentsAgainstObesity was spearheaded by NCD Coordinator, Valarie Williams with the support of the Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment, the Visual Arts Department of the Antigua Girls High School, the Rotary Club of Antigua, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, and H.E Karen-Mae Hill, High Commissioner.