UWI health researcher Dr Alafia Samuels has slammed Government for allowing advertising messages into the classroom by way of branded teaching and learning equipment.
The Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre, at Cave Hill is against branded primary school workbooks, blackboards and other promotional material.
Samuels, also a senior lecturer in Public Health and Epidemiology levelled the strong criticism during a Ministry of Health-organised town hall meeting at Queens College where members of the public were invited to share opinions on how to finance Barbados’ health care.
Last night’s meeting was the second of three planned, and Samuels was part of a discussion-leading panel that also included President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners Dr Carlos Chase, NIS Director Ian Carrington, QEH staff nurse and Barbados Nursing Association representative Bernard Beckles, Chief Health Planner Samuel Deane and Hope Foundation President Shelly Weir.
During the session chaired by Director of Planning in the Ministry of Health Danny Gill there was general agreement among panellists and contributors in the audience that obesity, which leads to health problems, placed an added cost on the health care system.
Addressing the issue of childhood obesity here, Dr Samuels said: “We have a situation in Barbados where Chefette is providing book covers and blackboards to primary schools and the children look at the word Chefette all day. They look at their book covers and they see the hamburger . . . all day”
Describing the fast food company’s school supplies as “short term benefits”, she said Barbados needed to decide whether such gains were needed.
“There are some policy issues that we need. And there are international agreements around marketing of foods to children. So we are not going to be unusual in terms of trying stop hostile marketing to children,” Samuels said.
She also emphasized the importance of teaching children healthy eating habits, while warning that fat children often became fat adults and contracted a number of the non-communicable illnesses now prevalent in Barbados.
“Chronic non-communicable diseases are really a large burden on the society. Eight out of ten deaths in Barbados are from chronic non-communicable diseases. The bigger problem is we have a high proportion of these deaths occurring prematurely.
“In the Caribbean we have the highest number of premature deaths in the region of the Americas, higher than North America, South America, Central America. We are the leaders, “she said, while stressing the importance for society and individuals to play their roles in combating the problem.
“It is not just a question of individual strength, or willpower, we have to create environments that make the right choice, the easy choice,” she said.
Samuels also rattled off a number of distressing statistics on risk factors for Barbadians 25 years or older, taken from the Ministry of Health-commissioned Health of the Nation Study, carried out by her Chronic Disease Centre:
She reported that one out of four men in Barbados binge drink.
“That means five or more drinks on any one occasion,” she explained.
Samuel also said one out of every five women is obese, adding to the dilemma of Caribbean women who have 60 per cent more risk of diabetes than men.
“In Barbados one out of five adults has diabetes. One out of five cases of diabetes is not diagnosed. Half of the people above the age of 65 have diabetes,” Samuel said.
She also said there was a problem of men accessing the health service, “so four out of ten men who have high blood pressure don’t know they have high blood pressure. They have not been to the doctor or the nurse to check their blood pressure. Of the men who have high blood pressure, half are on treatment. So even some of those who know they have it don’t bother to take the treatment. And only 30 per cent of men are [blood pressure] controlled. So in every hundred men in Barbados that have high blood pressure, only 30 per cent of them are controlled. On the women side it is 44 per cent.”
She said a frightening revelation of the study was that Barbadians were getting fatter at an earlier age.
“Back in the day in your 20s you were slim and by your 40s you start to look a little [fat] and by 60s, you have on a little something [fat].
“The issue now is that the girls in their 20s already have on a little something. They not waiting to age 60, they have all their fat in their 20s.
“So when they become 40 and 60 we’re going to have some really serious issues because as you age, you are going to continue to put on weight. It’s one of the unfortunate realities of life, for most of us. So if you start in your 20s already obese, it’s not a good thing.”
Dr Samuels said this points to massive rises in future health care costs.
“We really are going to be looking at increasing demand for health services . . . we are driving an obesity epidemic.” (GA)