Published 8 February 2024
Buckie Got It Media Source
For many people across the globe, St Kitts and Nevis is synonymous with glittering shorelines and picture-perfect holiday scenes that are a strong allure for tourists. But for those lucky enough to live on the island, it is much more than a tourist paradise. It is a complex developing economy with masses of potential and perhaps an equal measure of challenges.
One of these hurdles is our rising rates of poor health, and more specifically, ‘lifestyle-related’ noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Currently, these preventable illnesses are responsible for 80% of deaths on the island.
It’s not a problem which is unique to St Kitts and Nevis. The rising rate of NCDs has been a priority concern for all governments in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Furthermore, it has been high on the agenda at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, and globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has described it as a “major challenge for sustainable development”. According to WHO’s figures, NCDs kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 74% of all deaths globally.
Among the risk factors for these diseases are tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol. The good news is that these risks are all described as “modifiable”. This means that as governments, institutions and individuals, we can do something to decrease the prevalence of these illnesses.
This message of hope is the driving force behind the creation of St Kitts and Nevis’ National Sports Policy, which was developed with Commonwealth support. In addition to maximising the opportunities for professional athletes, it is designed to get all our citizens – regardless of age, ability, or location – moving and involved in sports and physical activity. Critically, it outlines the obligations of public and private sector stakeholders to work together to utilise sport as an effective tool for sustainable development, peace-building and improving health outcomes.
This certainly is not a responsibility that should be taken lightly, especially when inactivity has become an unintentional lifestyle choice across our population. Gone are the days when sports define childhood memories. And I am not just referring to PE hours at school or annual sports events. It is the organic activities such as the ad hoc game of cricket in someone’s yard or the spontaneous game of football in a grassy field as we travelled in packs on our way back from school.
Today, factors such as the tumultuous impact of COVID-19 and the massive shift to screen- based entertainment are forcing children to spend hours mesmerised by phones, iPads, and TVs. It is the same for adults, who are also more inclined to drive or take public transport than to walk. This, along with other factors such as unhealthy eating, is the source of the tragic NCD figures that exist in most countries. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, NCDs are estimated to cause a global cumulative economic loss of $47 trillion between 2011 and 2030 and “pose a huge economic burden on countries causing and perpetuating poverty while hindering economic development”.
Governments and institutions need to view physical inactivity for what it really is – a slow- acting poison that is cutting lives short and syphoning off large portions of national budgets. Urgent, targeted, strategic action needs to follow. A step in the right direction for St Kitts and Nevis is to become a role model for other countries and to work with the Commonwealth and other institutions to implement the National Sports Policy.