Spurred into action by statistics showing that a high number of Barbadian students were inactive, overweight, obese and ate the wrong foods, health officials here are turning their attention to vendors who sell snacks outside school compounds in a bid to get them to offer healthy foods.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George said over the weekend that officials have had some success in convincing operators of established food outlets in the schools to offer healthy options.
However, he said reaching the vendors who set up outside school gates was proving more challenging.
“Itinerant vendors are people who make their living by selling around schools. They are usually more difficult to reach, but we haven’t forgotten them,” Dr George told the media on Saturday following a certification ceremony at the Collymore Rock Nazarene Church for pre-secondary school pupils who completed the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Programme (BCHOPP).
The senior medical official added that working with the itinerant vendors was part of the BCHOPP’s plan because they were easily accessible to the students.
He again emphasized the need for these vendors to offer to change the menu.
“It doesn’t make sense you have healthy food on the premises and you step out a few feet and you have a set of salty snacks that are not healthy.
“We will have to have workshops with that diverse group of persons . . . we’re just trying to change a little bit of behaviour. If they can start selling more healthy foods, a little salads etc, or having the very sweetened drinks being replaced by water. There are other options we could discuss with them,” he said.
Earlier, during the BCHOPP certification ceremony, Dr George complained that like the adults, too many Barbadian children were forsaking locally grown foods and opting for the imported variety that is usually high in salt, added sugars and trans fat.
He was also critical of the “aggressive marketing” of unhealthy foods to children.
“There is a trend of aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods, specifically to children. Sporting and cultural events are frequently sponsored by producers of unhealthy foods and beverages,”
Dr George observed.
The medical officer pointed to a 2012 Global School Health Survey report on Barbadian children between ages 13 and 15, as evidence of the poor consumption habits here.
In that report, 31.9 per cent of the children studied were overweight; 14.4 per cent were obese; fewer than 30 per cent had fruits or vegetables in the month leading up to the study; more than 70 per cent drank carbonated sweet drinks once a day; and 18.5 per cent ate from fast food restaurants three or more times a week.