About five months ago, Director of the Chronic Disease Research Center (CDRC) at the University of the West Indies Dr Alafia Samuels made the bold call for Government to “tax the fat”, raising many an eyebrow and even ire in some quarters.
No – she was not referring to taxing overweight individuals, but rather the sugary, fatty foods that we relish.
Her argument was based on the fact that Barbadians are eating too many unhealthy foods and they should pay for their overindulgence.
Dr Samuels said then, “We need to put on a fat tax”, while warning that “all of this deep fat fried food that we are eating is leading to heart attacks and strokes.
“So if you eating it now, put down a little money to pay for the heart attack down the road.”
Months later that ominous warning seemingly became a dreaded reality – close to a dozen Barbadians have collapsed and died suddenly over the last two months spiking more than heart rates up and down this nation.
According to the Ministry of Health, the deaths were not due to any new public health problem or the ridiculous rumours that they were linked to lead contamination from new water meters, rather autopsy reports revealed they were caused by the all too familiar chronic diseases stalking our country.
Said acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George, “the majority of these deaths were the result of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which were either poorly-controlled, undiagnosed, or untreated”.
They included heart attack, stroke, brain haemorrhage, acute pulmonary embolism (clotting in lungs) and acute arrhythmia.
And if that was not enough, a CDRC study recently revealed by UWI lecturer Christina Howitt showed that Barbadians are in a health crisis.
It noted that one in three people is suffering with diabetes, one in three suffers with hypertension or high blood sugar, two out of three are overweight and three quarters of Barbadian women are overweight.
Moreover, we are simply not physically active.
For every ten Barbadian women, only one gets enough physical activity and for the men, six out of ten men get enough.
How did we come to such a sorry state?
The fact is we have no one but ourselves to blame.
It is not necessary to be a fanatic to have good health, but we might want to start putting forth a lot more effort as individuals and as a country.
The Government’s well-intentioned move to impose a tax on soft drinks to deter citizens from consuming soft drinks – well known for their ruinous effect on people’s health – may have been a step in the right direction, but it appears to have done little to nudge consumers towards wholesome alternatives.
Soft drinks are only one part of the problem, especially when supermarket shelves are laden with cheap, tasty but ultimately harmful food, while fruits and vegetables are often more expensive than their processed counterparts.
Refined foods and other packaged items with a high salt content should be additionally taxed while the cost attached to healthy foods lowered and subsidies attached where necessary.
Careful attention must also be paid to the proliferation of fast food outlets and their offerings to modern Barbadian families, now far too busy to prepare healthy meals.
If the Government is serious about turning around an unhealthy Barbados and crippling health-care costs it also has to educate and encourage citizens to get moving.
But ultimately, Barbadians simply have to change their lifestyles.
Parents need to do a better job when it comes to food by making responsible choices for their children’s diets and by setting an example with their own.
Children also need to run around more at home and at school.
We can no longer delay taking charge of our own health and readapt to eating, moving and living in a way that boosts health and life.