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By Jamila Sujud
ALMATY, Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan wants its residents to get fit.
By pushing a program to change the mind-set of up-and-coming generations, one positive effect might be to offset the incidence of cardiovascular disease, traditionally the nation’s top killer, according to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO).
That was part of the backdrop for a December 22 roundtable in Almaty held for nongovernmental organizations. The goal was to figure out how to popularise healthy lifestyles (HLS).
In Kazakhstan HLS propaganda is just one line of the government’s strategy. It goes along with the nongovernmental sector and businesses which are actively sponsoring and promoting HLS development.
Almaty Akimat, the Almaty Centre for Promoting Healthy Lifestyle, and VIA Communication have teamed up to prepare an anti-alcohol promotional video that recently aired on the youth television station Hit-TV.
However, according to VIA Communication General Director Saule Bigaleyeva, “No measures of an administrative type will have an effect since human culture causes this (unhealthy living)”. Smoking and drinking are two cultural activities that contribute to unhealthy lifestyles
“If we are going to say that you cannot call yourself a ‘cultured person’, if you do not lead a healthy lifestyle or that ‘being healthy and active is fashionable’, then HLS will become popular”, Bigaleyeva predicted. But that alone might not work.
Bigaleyeva is concerned that “the tools companies use to promote tobacco and alcohol are well chosen and targeted at consumers”. When advertisements are geared toward youth, a long-lasting problem develops, she said
“When a teenager drinks a can of beer there is a completely different reaction than if a grown person were to do so. Teenagers will immediately get used to it. As a consequence of this, we could lose an entire generation”, she said.
Citing research from 2008, National Centre for Problems of Healthy Lifestyle Development General Director Saule Dikanbayeva said that, excluding hookah smokers, 27 percent of Kazakhstan’s population are smokers. Dikanbayeva says a healthy lifestyle needs to be taught at an early age.
“HLS is the spiritual attitude of a person; it is (eating) good, healthy food, not fashionable fast food”, Dikanbayeva said.
With this in mind, the centre has conducted a series of meetings for representatives of schools and the food service industry about the dangers of fast food: “We are not against fast food, but it should not be the norm.”
For three years the centre has been working on introducing quality, hot foods into schools and higher-education establishments in Almaty.
With the support of UNICEF, four youth health centres have opened. There, young people can discuss issues not only with peers, but also with doctors. In the next five years, 25 such centres will open across the country.
“The practice of developing HLS is widely used in large business enterprises via the payment of pool and fitness club memberships, food provision, medical insurance and passes to health resorts”, said Larisa Meshkova, Project Manager for the Kazakhstan Entrepreneurs Forum.
“There have been a series of cases where companies that manufacture tobacco products have initiated campaigns to support public health by conducting campaigns to prevent smoking among minors”, she added. But Meshkova said that such practices do not apply to small businesses. “In difficult economic conditions, employers are focused to a greater extent on survival, on preserving their workplace and, most importantly, on paying their taxes”, she said.
Meshkova thinks that, in this respect, the state’s role in the HLS development process for small businesses becomes more important.
“It is important for entrepreneurs to be evaluated and motivated by the state. If active HLS development programs were to reduce the tax load or to give preference in bidding for state tenders, it would be a powerful motivation and condition for the further development of the organisation”, Meshkova said.