With the cases of obesity in Barbados and the wider Caribbean steadily rising, health officials are looking to embark on programmes to encourage behavioural change among children and teenagers – the group where the numbers are highest.
Representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to Barbados Dr Godfrey Xuereb told a recent public lecture that the problem of obesity has been worsening in Barbados.
He said that while the Caribbean successfully eradicated malnutrition, it is now facing another epidemic related to the health of its children, in the form of obesity.
“And as we look at childhood obesity especially, and teenage obesity, this is alarming. . . . If we look at the data from 1975 to the data in 2011, the 1975 data showed 39 per cent of our children were suffering from malnutrition. In 2011, 46 per cent, or almost half of our teens, were overweight and obese,” Dr Xuereb said.
According to him, more consumption of sugar and fat are two of the main contributors to this increase, noting that the dietary pattern study of 2005 showed that the average Barbadian is consuming four times the recommended amount of sugar.
“The data that is coming from the dietary pattern study shows that sugar-sweetened drinks provide 40 per cent of the total sugar intake. . . . What makes it worse is that from the 2011 study, we know that 73 per cent of students say they consume at least one or more carbonated, sugary drinks a day. So it’s become an ingrained part of behaviour and that’s the behaviour change that we need to do,” Dr Xuereb contended.
“We need to do something to change the behaviour, to discourage our teens from consuming sugar-sweetened beverages.”
He echoed the concerns raised by the Council for Trade and Economic Development in 2015, that childhood obesity will affect the development of the region.
“It’s no longer just another condition. The impact on disability, the impact on productivity, the impact on the economy is too high not to take note of,” Dr Xuereb said.
Health officials have pointed to sugar-sweetened beverages as one of the major contributors to the epidemic, and some countries have been taking steps to reduce consumption of those drinks.
Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent are the three CARICOM member states that have so far implemented a levy on these beverages, while others are said to be considering a similar measure.
Dr Xuereb called for a uniformed policy within CARICOM to deal with the issue.
“Once we have an established policy, this is replicated in many of the member states. We see this with tobacco taxation, we see this with other forms of taxation . . . and I think the sugar-sweetened beverage tax is one that can easily be replicated,” Dr Xuereb said.