Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), Representative to Jamaica, Margareta Skold, says there is need for an increase in preventive and promotional actions to discourage young people from engaging in dangerous lifestyle behaviours.
"Adolescence is a time of experimentation. Many of today’s and tomorrow's leading causes of death, disease and disability can be significantly reduced by preventing risk behaviour initiated in youth," she stated.
Mrs. Skold, who was addressing the launch of 'Caribbean Wellness Day 2012' on September 3, 2012 at the Ministry of Health's downtown Kingston offices, made the comments against the background of a survey, which found that young people across the globe, including Jamaica, are actively participating in high risk behaviours.
The 2010 Global Health School survey was conducted among 1,623 students in grades 7 to 12, and measured alcohol use, dietary behaviours, drug use, mental health, tobacco use, and violence.
In the category of alcohol use, the survey revealed that in Jamaica, some 80.2 per cent of young people had their first alcoholic drink before the age of 14 years. It also showed that 79.9 per cent of students had their first experience of drug use before they were 14 years old.
Mrs. Skold said the survey offered “sobering findings” and showed that many young people were in need of positive influences, not only at home, but also in their school environment.
She argued that the school setting offers some of the best opportunities for positively influencing the health of young people and preventing the initiation of the health risk behaviours.
"Education and health support enhance each other, neither is possible alone. Together they serve as a foundation for a better world,” she remarked.
Mrs. Skold noted that an effective school programme can be one of the most cost-effective investments a nation can make to simultaneously improve education and health.
The PAHO/WHO Representative therefore lauded the efforts of the Ministries of Health and Education in implementing the ‘health promoting schools’ initiative’, which is geared towards empowering schools to facilitate healthy choices and the development of healthy behaviour from a young age.
A health promoting school has been defined by WHO as an institution, which strengthens its capacity as a healthy environment for living, learning and working. As such, it becomes a place where all members of the school community work together to provide students with integrated and positive experiences and a structure, which promotes and protects their health.
Mrs. Skold said that WHO has had a longstanding commitment to the promotion of school health programmes as a strategic means to prevent important health risks among the youth and to engage the education sector in efforts to change the educational, social, economic and political conditions that affect risky behaviour.
"The extent to which each nation’s schools become health promoting schools will play a significant role in determining whether or not the next generation is educated and healthy,” she stated.
Caribbean Wellness Day 2012 will be observed on September 8, under the theme: “Healthy Schools make Healthy Communities that build Healthy Countries”, and is being organised in partnership with the Ministries of Health and Education and the National Health Fund (NHF).