Minister of Health John Boyce today linked high consumption, especially of sweet drinks, to the island’s exploding problem of non-chronic communicable diseases (NCDs) and expressed gratitude that the Ministry of Finance took on board the budget recommendations of an NCD Committee.
“There must be an investment in tackling this NCD problem,” Boyce told the House of Assembly during his contribution to the just-concluded Budget debate.
“Non-communicable diseases have now overtaken communicable diseases as a major issue, and as many as 60 to 70 per cent of Barbadians are suffering severely from one or more of the risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases,” he said and gave examples as heart conditions, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
In light of a new 10 per cent tax on soft drinks and other sweetened beverages announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in Monday’s Budget presentation, the Minister of Health warned that the NCD challenge could not be met by enlarging accommodation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“You wouldn’t be able to make the ward big enough to deal with the problem”, he said, citing a need to invest in Barbadian lifestyle change “that will bring about a much healthier approach”.
In an indication that more severe disincentives for the sweet tooth may be underway, Boyce described the new tax as a “first brush” and “merely a step in the right direction as we try to encourage Barbadians to drink healthy, to move away from carbonated randomly sweetened sweet drinks and to a regime where we look at healthy beverage”.
Hinting at what may be a much more drastic salvo in the war, Boyce said, “We haven’t taken it (the sweet drink product) off the shelf yet”.
He indicated there could be even more bombardment, on all bad foods.
“If we persist in going in the direction of unhealthy eating, we’re going to impose a penalty so as to help us deal with the treatment.
“All we are saying is, in light of the fact that these products having obviously contributed to having to deal with the non-communicable diseases, we will ask Barbadians to think again. And when you are spending your money, instead of spending it on these drinks, let us spend it on something which is healthier.”
Boyce reflected that the warfare on lifestyle diseases had been long engaged.
“It’s not the first stage we’ve reached with dealing with non-communicable diseases. We’ve dealt with cigarettes.”
He spoke of taking the fight against smoke-induced illnesses up a notch by redefining what the designated areas are for smokers.
“I believe that we will have . . . to look at redefining this public space because people are beginning to stick their heads through windows and believe that satisfies the legal requirement.”