On 12 October 2019, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment released a statement announcing a forward-looking initiative to promote wellness and healthy lifestyle among Maldivians.
The initiative involved a Bollywood celebrity, Mr. Suniel Shetty, working as a Wellness Ambassador to promote Mission Fit Maldives.
The statement outlined several features of the program. They included (a) working with the local fitness community, (b) “…address the most common ailments and lifestyle disorders that society concurrently deals with…”, (c) busting myths about fitness and (d) reaching out to every household. The government further assured to (e) train sport and fitness development officer for every island and (f) provide outdoor gyms for island communities.
The initiative was met with some skepticism in social media. The issue was over a lack of prior consultation with relevant stakeholders.
On 15th October, Minister Ahmed Mahloof invited stakeholders to discuss his initiative. They included government and non-government actors such as WHO Maldives, Society for Health Education, Ministry of Health, and several Fitness Clubs.
National Fitness Campaigns are not a new concept to the Maldives. There is a history of sports and physical activity in the Maldives, such as the Ministry of Sports initiative “Sport for All” campaign in the mid-90s. Learn to Swim has also been the target of such a campaign.
However, the emergence of the fitness club is more recent. A vibrant fitness community has since emerged in our urban centers, where 41% of Maldivians live. A jogging/running culture has taken root over the last few years, with events such as the Dhiraagu Road Race. Being an island country, we are also seeing the emergence of open water swimming as a recreational fitness activity.
National fitness campaigns are already a feature in East Asia. Maldivians are aware of such programs in Singapore and Malaysia. It is India that appears to be setting the pace in our region.
There is reason to take fitness promotion seriously. The world is facing a public health crisis. Physical inactivity is a public health issue. Maldives is no exception. Recently announced mortality figures indicate that 84% of deaths in the country were due to NCDs (Non-Communicable or Lifestyle disease). The global average stands at 71%. The WHO also reported that only 40% of women and 51% of men were within the recommended BMI range.
What is significant about Minister Mahloof’s initiative is the idea of consolidating fitness promotion as a long-term national campaign. The most frequent criticism of such campaigns is that they are “flash in the pan” fads rather than sustained trends.
Fitness has morphed into recreation and wellness. It is now everybody’s game!
As the first commercial fitness club (since 1990), we were delighted to be invited to this important national conversation.