Designing a healthy lifestyle for seafarers

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During the 2024 SAFETY4SEA Manila Forum, Dr. Christian Angelo P. Lubaton, Medical Director, Nordic Medical Clinic, presented ways that a holistic approach to crew welfare can be fostered.

We need to design a healthy lifestyle for our seafarers that aligns with the World Health Organization’s holistic definition of health. This definition views health as multifactorial, encompassing physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

In my wholeness, holistic practice I look at the human person as a whole, the person has a body, the person has feelings, the person misses his family, the person gets fatigued, the person has some beliefs whether we are in the same beliefs or not, but we do and everything is connected, everyone is connected.

Designing a healthy lifestyle is deliberate and intentional, it doesn’t just happen naturally. There must be an effort, there is cost, there is political will if you want to say it and I want to say while internal motivation helps it’s the lifestyle design. It’s the lifestyle design that sustains success or failure in the long term.

Example

For example, consider choice architecture. I once went to a convenience store to buy water, but at the checkout counter, colorful packages of M&M’s caught my eye. Despite not planning to buy them, their enticing packaging and nostalgic appeal led me to purchase them. This demonstrates how the layout and design of a store influence our decisions.

What choice architecture do our seafarers have onboard? What options are presented to them? The decisions we make are greatly affected by the design of our environment.

Scientific studies show that urban areas with numerous fast-food outlets tend to have higher BMIs among their populations. High BMI is linked to increased cases of hypertension, diabetes, and chronic illnesses. This pattern is consistent across various countries and regions, highlighting the significant impact of environmental design on health.

Reflecting on my experiences aboard different vessels, it often feels like the food offerings mirror fast food—quick and convenient. While rice is a staple for energy, many meals are fried, limiting healthy options. This brings up important questions about the design of meal planning on ships. How are chief cooks and stewards trained? Can they prepare nutritious meals despite diverse crew nationalities? Are the provisions and budget per person per day sufficient to support healthy eating?

For instance, hypertension among Danish seafarers is a multifaceted issue, but one notable factor is noise. Many seafarers report getting only 4 to 6 hours of sleep due to constant noise, which negatively impacts their blood pressure. Proper sleep is crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, emphasizing the need for a well-designed living and working environment onboard to promote overall health and well-being.

A person who’s going on board after months of rest is very highly motivated but over time 6 months 7 months it can the motivation can go down. So what is the design?

“Healthy lifestyle of seafarers well should be intrinsically motivated again can be greatly influenced by the lifestyle design onshore and on board”

Best practices on Shore and onboard

  1. Fast & Efficient Pre-Employment Medical Service: Online and automated process of booking or appointment for schedule of pre-employment medical examination (PEME). All tests are completed by the seafarer within 2-4 hours. Results available within the day and sent to the seafarer.
  2. Health Education with Maritime Doctors, Explanation of Results: All seafarers who underwent PEME will receive a call from NMC doctor within 24hrs to discuss the PEME results. Aids in empowering seafarers to have an active participation in taking good care of their health.
  3. Access to Follow Ups and Continuous Care: Repeat tests, targeted Dental x-ray, Additional Chest x-ray views can be done at NMC with no additional cost to clients of seafarers. Follow ups with doctors is accessible at no expense for seafarers.

Involvement of Family

One of our best practices with a major customer involves engaging the family in crew seminars, discussing family values, financial literacy, health, and wellness. This investment in family involvement is crucial, especially for Filipinos, where health decisions are typically made by the spouse, not the father. Influencing the maternal side to manage health decisions and not update the seafarer husband hourly about home events 1,000 miles away is very helpful. Empowering the family means taking care of the seafarer.

Additional Best Practices

  • Continuous Training of Cooks while ashore, to have more knowledge and skills to serve healthy and delicious food onboard for different nationalities. Avoid ‘fast food’ thinking.
  • Crew travel is optimized: appropriate planning, shorter layovers, trying to prevent fatigue before seafarers even assume their role onboard, while keeping costs in check.

Access while on the ship

VESSEL VISITS: Going to where the seafarers are, seeing their environment and actual practices while they are onboard vessels. Creating opportunities for Health Education in the relevant environment.

ACCESS TO PROFESSIONALS: 24/7 Access for any Medical or Mental Health concern. Includes Psycho-Spiritual support: Mental Health Support, Counselling with Psychologist, access to Priests, etc.

The ship design psychological safety good provisions

  • Good provisions with budget allocations that promotes variety of healthy options for food onboard. Setup healthy food, than fast food.
  • Psychological Safety is included in the agenda of toolbox meetings onboard
  • Ship design promotes health: access for Crew exercise and recreation, restful sleep.

The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.

Above article is a transcript from Dr. Christian Angelo P. Lubaton’s presentation during the 2024 SAFETY4SEA Manila Forum with minor edits for clarification purposes.

Explore more by watching the video presentation here below

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