Hip-hop music can help children identify stroke, especially in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Most people have seen the commercials, where they identify the signs of stroke but do you or I pay enough attention to catch a stroke as it is happening to someone else?

We know that if a stroke goes untreated for more than 4.5 hours, the clot-busting drugs will not be effective as 1.9 million brain cells die every minute a stroke continues. Strokes kill four times more 35- to 54-year-old black Americans than white Americans.

But it isn’t just strokes that kids should be learning about – restaurateur and television chef Jamie Oliver has been talking about teaching kids under the age of 14 about food, nutrition and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) since 2014. He says that the rate of increase in NCDs can be directly linked back to the fact that three generations of people don’t know how to cook, have not had food education (children and parents have trouble naming vegetables according to him) and have been offered fast, easy and cheap foods that tend to be less nutritious. Teaching children about lifestyle and food is much more complicated then learning about the stroke warning signs: “F-A-S-T, which refers to: Face dropping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1”.

As NCD rates rise for adults, children are also now being targeted by alcohol, tobacco and food companies because they understand that lifestyle habits start early. There are now new technologies that use digital media techniques such as social media, online games, virtual environments, personal profiling, location targeting and mobile marketing to entice children and teenagers. Though there are now tools being designed to help governments to monitor and control inappropriate online marketing and protect young people, how far can these tools go?

It does look as though education, and understanding the lifestyle implications, may be the best way forward. This is why Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, and several other countries have Ministries of Health collaborating with the Ministries of Education to increase instruction around NCDs, healthy eating and good exercise habits, and make sure that children have the knowledge they need to avoid becoming an NCD statistic.

At the UN Summit on NCDs in September 2011, the Child Focused Working Group of the NCD Alliance called on member states to uphold their international commitment to the rights of the child. They wanted to guarantee that children were “a primary consideration” and were not left off the agenda. Though it had an important theme, “Scaling up multi- stakeholder and multi-sectoral responses for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the High Level Meeting on NCDs in September 2018 did not really keep children or young people in mind.

According to the WHO, two-thirds of premature deaths in adults are associated with childhood conditions and behaviours: over 150 million young people smoke; 81% of adolescents don’t get enough physical activity; 11.7% of adolescents partake in heavy episodic drinking and 41 million children under 5 years old are overweight or obese. And this situation is even worse amongst young people living in low- and middle-income countries. By using new media, youth can share targeted messages on key risk factors and interventions. Young people can engage with different communities and share information about NCDs differently. They can lead programmes to promote healthy behaviour and they can contribute to education and awareness initiatives.

And though it is important that everyone know about the signs of stroke, understanding NCDs could change the way a generation lives, breathes and interacts with the world. Isn’t saving a generation from suffering worth the effort even if it can’t be done in hip hop style?