By Melissa Rollock, GIS Barbados
Barbadians continue to eat meals prepared outside of the home which are, too often, high in salt, refined sugars, cholesterol, trans-fats and saturated fats.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MHW) with responsibility for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Dr. Sonia Browne, made this observation at the just concluded workshop on Strategies to Reduce the Salt & Sugar Content of Foods in Barbados held from October 17 to 18, at the Hilton Barbados Resort. It was hosted by the MHW in collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organization.
Dr. Browne said this was a “worrying trend” for the Ministry of Health in addition to unhealthy foods being marketed specifically to children.
“This takes place not only through various media channels using signage, characters and symbols that appeal to children, but through sponsorship of school related sporting events. This is of concern to the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
These challenges require a comprehensive suite of policies that are guided by evidence …
“We have included major components of these policies in the National School Nutrition Policy which takes into account physical activity, good nutrition in school, curriculum adjustments around health education, as well as wider issues such as labelling, fiscal measures and marketing to children. The Ministry of Health is partnering closely with the Ministry of Education in the rollout of this policy,” she stated.
Dr. Browne further noted that obesity in the young was a precursor to obesity and NCDs in adulthood. She said childhood obesity was increasing and small island developing states, such as Barbados, were particularly vulnerable to its impacts on development and economies.
Prior to the 1980s, undernourishment was a major issue in the region, she pointed out, but in recent times, the rates of paediatric obesity have been increasing.
To illustrate this, the Minister of State shared that in 2018, 32 per cent of Barbadian children were overweight or obese. Contributing to this figure were low levels of physical activity and high levels of consumption of processed foods that were high in sugar, salt and fat.
“Given the drivers on the impacts of NCDs, there is need for individual responsibility as well as a supportive environment for healthy living. Beyond individuals and government, the private and civil society sectors need to ensure that they are taking action that reduces the burden of this NCD pandemic.”
Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Sonia Browne
Dr. Browne said NCDs made up the largest area of expenditure in the national healthcare budget, noting this cost was not only counted as a monetary one, but also as a cost to livelihoods and families.
They are the leading causes of preventable morbidity, disability and premature death among the local population and include:
- Cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, myocardial infarction or heart attacks, strokes, peripheral vascular disease or poor circulation.
- Cancers – breast, prostate, colon and cervical being the main cancers of public health concern.
- Chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and even sleep apnea which is often related to obesity.
- Diabetes mellitus.
The Minister of State added it was crucial that strategies are put in place to not only address the negative outcomes but to reduce the incidences of these conditions.
However, she explained that the road to solving the NCD problem in Barbados was filled with challenges ranging from political, cultural and economic to those who were just resistant to change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also added another challenge, she said, since those with underlying health issues, including NCDs, have a higher risk of severe disease and are more likely to die from the viral illness.
“Given the drivers on the impacts of NCDs, there is need for individual responsibility as well as a supportive environment for healthy living. Beyond individuals and government, the private and civil society sectors need to ensure that they are taking action that reduces the burden of this NCD pandemic,” Dr. Browne stated.
She added: “This workshop is intended to advance the discussion on improving health through reducing sugar and salt consumption. I am grateful for the presence of each of the partners represented and anticipate that our work over the two days will meaningfully advance the fight against NCDs.”