The local burden of chronic non-communicable diseases has shifted from the elderly to children and young adults who are in the productive years of their lives.
Senior Medical Officer of Health with responsibility for CNCDs, Dr. Kenneth George, said that nutrition-related CNCDs such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and cancer had now become major public health challenges for these non-traditional groups.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the National Nutrition Centre’s Food and Nutrition Fair today at the Vashti Inniss Empowerment Centre, George pointed out that dietary trends in Barbados showed three major areas of concern.
They are: a shift from diets based in indigenous staples, local fruits, vegetables and legumes to energy dense diets comprising more processed foods that were high in salt, sugars, saturated fats and cholesterol; changing food consumption patterns linked to an increased dependence on food imports which have resulted in rising levels of dietary related illnesses and diseases; and an upward trend of obesity levels from 50 per cent in the 1980s to 60 per cent in the 1990s and current figures of almost 70 per cent.
The senior medical official said women were mostly affected by obesity and evidence suggested that childhood obesity was on the rise.
“Against this backdrop, the National Nutrition Centre has developed programmes to ensure the availability of nutritious foods, the adoption of healthy eating habits and lifestyle changes. The astronomical burden of chronic non-communicable diseases on our economy continues to be significant including loss of productive time, loss of employment opportunities, decreased quality of life and increased money spent on health care.
“Today, the [centre], through the Ministry of Health, continues to have a paramount role in creating an enabling and supportive environment to reduce the incidence of [CNCDs] to make people more food secure. This is made possible through its various public health initiatives, education and training programmes and clinical nutrition interventions.
“The centre has produced and distributed Food Based Dietary Guidelines for Barbados with a view to encourage healthy eating habits and active lifestyles in order to prevent chronic disease and other nutrition-related illnesses,” George explained.
He added that guidelines had also been developed for schools. Training was provided for canteen operators within schools, he noted, and a move had been made to remove dispensing machines with unhealthy snacks and replace them with those offering more healthy options.
The doctor also emphasised the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own health, adding that improving nutritional well-being was no longer the “exclusive right” of nutritionists and dieticians.
“We have witnessed the spiralling costs of treatment of persons afflicted with CNCDs. We have embraced new ways of intervening where lifestyle change can have verifiable and lasting impacts. Our own micro manageable projects in addition to traditional home grown strategies can certainly redound to our benefit. Let us leave no stone unturned in our quest to ensure that nutrition, its safety and security are assured,” the Senior Medical Officer emphasised.