The chances of a “fat tax” being imposed on Barbadians became much slimmer yesterday after Minister of Health John Boyce ruled it out, seemingly hinting that the idea did not carry any weight.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had already said he had to plans to levy Barbadians based on their eating habits, arguing it would be “grossly discriminatory”.
The suggestion was made last week at a Ministry of Health-organized town hall meeting on financing the country’s public health care system at which Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre (CDRC) at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Dr Alafia Samuels was among those arguing strongly for Government to “tax the fat”.
Boyce dealt with the issue yesterday as he addressed the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s third annual Health Financing Summit at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
While admitting there was an obesity problem on the island, the minister said the much talked about “fat tax” was not among his ministry’s strategies to tackle the problem..
“I wish to clarify here however, that the submission commonly referred to as the fat tax is not representative of my ministry’s policies.
“We encourage individuals to take responsibility for their health and in collaboration with their health care providers, to arrive at goals and objectives that are achievable and in their best interests. Designing diet, exercise and daily activity plans that are suited to the individual’s health and physical status and which are also economical feasible for the individual is the strategy being used to address obesity,” Boyce declared.
However, he stressed that in the food industry needed to exercise a “measure of social responsibility” in providing the public with healthier options that were just as attractive and tasty as the fatty and salty foods.
“The Ministry of Health would however like to call on food manufacturers, supermarkets, restaurants and food vendors to exercise some measure of social responsibility in marketing their products to the general public, especially to our impressionable school age population.
“There is need for more concerted efforts to incorporate healthy offerings to the public and make a greater attempt to make the healthy affair as attractive and palatable as fattening and salty foods which the majority of us find so appealing. I must commend those in the food industry who have already been making steps in this regard.”
Boyce revealed that unhealthy foods with high fat, salt and caloric content, coupled with high alcohol consumption, presented a challenge for the country’s health care system and that the cost of treating noncommunicable diseases was a strain on the country.
“The social and personal costs are also unacceptable with a recorded eight of ten premature deaths in Barbados caused by these non communicable diseases,” the minister reported.
He also made it clear that while the summit was useful to the authorities as they considered a national health insurance plan, it was not a signal that the Ministry of Health had already taken a policy decision on the matter.
Meantime, Dr Samuels yesterday sought to “set the record straight” on the “fat tax” issue.
In an email to Barbados TODAY yesterday evening, she stressed that she was “totally against a tax of fat people”, saying it would be “totally inequitable, ridiculous and impractical”.
Dr Samuels added that imposing such a levy on Barbadians was also not the view of her professional colleagues at the CDRC or the UWI Public Health Group in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.
She explained that she was recommending a tax on unhealthy fatty foods, similar to the tax imposed on sweetened beverages to try to reduce consumption of sugar.
“This tax revenue should be used to subsidize healthy foods, making healthy foods cheaper and unhealthy foods more expensive.
“These recommendations are in line with internationally endorsed guidance, such as from the World Health Organization,” the CDRC Director wrote.
Dr Samuels also repeated the recommendation to ban advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks to children, again making reference to fast food chain, Chefette, which she accused of breaching this recommendation.
“There is clear evidence that advertising fast foods to children adversely affects their diet even in situations where parents try to encourage health foods. This promotion of unhealthy food is contributing to an obesogenic . . . . I use this opportunity to appeal to Chefette and other fast food marketers to put the health of our impressionable children before their profits,” she concluded.