Government is looking to forge a partnership with local churches in an effort to promote healthier lifestyles.
To this end, the Ministry of Health will soon be launching a Toolkit for Faith-Based Organisations which will provide guidance for planning community-based healthy lifestyle activities such as health fairs, lectures and screening programmes.
Minister of Health John Boyce made this disclosure recently at the launch of the East Caribbean Seventh-Day Adventists’ Barbados Better Health Weekend.
He said churches could play a significant role in helping to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases by educating their members and providing opportunities for them to practise healthy behaviours.
“Even though there is some debate about the influence of the church, I do believe that churches are still able to exercise some degree of influence on the family and, therefore, have the ability to shape behaviours that can lead to healthy lifestyle choices.
“These assets provide a strong argument for church based health promotion programmes because churches touch the lives of diverse groups of people, where they live and where they socialise and are especially well positioned to support healthy lifestyle activities,” he stressed.
The minister explained that the need for community based institutions to contribute to improvement in health and the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviours was vital. He said local data showed that NCDs, namely diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease and some cancers, were the major causes of premature death, illness and disability among the population.
In addition, he pointed out that the Barbados Risk Factor Survey 2007 reported that 14.4 per cent of adults were living with diabetes; 29 per cent had hypertension; and 55 per cent of adult men and 74 per cent of adult women were overweight or obese.
Boyce noted that the Ministry of Health was currently conducting the “Health of the Nation Study”, which was expected to be completed later this year.
He said it would provide a more up-to-date picture of the status of these risk factors among the population.
The minister acknowledged that tobacco control was a high priority for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and churches in general and in addition to enforcing the legislation that bans smoking in public places, he said his ministry was in the process of preparing documentation “to seek approval for Barbados to adopt the CARICOM Standard on Packaging and Labelling of Tobacco Products which calls for pictorial warnings on packages of tobacco products”.
“The challenge of bringing about behaviour change to address lifestyle diseases is not for the Ministry of Health alone. The factors that influence these diseases are far too complex to be tackled without the input and resources of partners in civil society, the private sector and the other government sectors,” Boyce emphasised.