Barbados could follow in the footsteps of Trinidad and Tobago in banning the sale and promotion of sweet drinks at schools across the island.
The ban in Port of Spain, which was approved by the Keith Rowley Cabinet, is due to take effect on April 1.
Minister of Health John Boyce this morning told a consultation on healthy eating he had asked officers in his ministry to draw up a set of policy options – to include a ban on sweetened drinks – for consideration by Cabinet.
“I am especially concerned about children and what is available to them on a daily basis in schools and its environs. Among these [policy options] will be consideration regarding the marketing of unhealthy foods to children while they’re at school. Consideration will be given to a ban on the sale or promotion of sweetened beverages on the premises of our schools,” Boyce said.
The ban is being contemplated in the wake of the introduction of a ten per cent tax on sweetened drinks in 2015, a levy that could be doubled, the minister said.
“I’ve been advised that increasing this tax to 20 per cent – and this is one of the suggestions that’s coming from the public – would be more beneficial to realizing the objectives of reducing demand,” he stated.
Addressing a regional meeting on childhood obesity last month, Boyce had pointed to the 2012 Global School Health Survey, which indicated that 32 per cent of students aged 13 -15 were obese, 14.4 per cent were overweight, and less than 30 per cent had been engaging in the daily recommended amount of physical activity.
He also revealed at the time that 70 per cent drank carbonated drinks at least once a day and nearly one in five (18 per cent) ate fast food three or more days weekly.
This morning he told health officials and members of the private sector there was much room for improvement in relation to eating habits.
“Obesity levels are high, especially among women, and the vast majority of Barbadian adults, 25 years and over, have two or more risk factors for NCDs. Virtually no one in Barbados is risk-factor free,” the minister said, quoting from the 2015 Healthy Nations report.
“As a nation, as a society, we cannot continue on this path and hope to avoid negative outcomes.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Retail and Distribution Committee of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Anthony Branker said while the Chamber supported the development of a culture of wellness, Barbadians needed better access to healthy, affordable food.
“Duties and taxes on healthy food should be minimized where possible to encourage healthy choices. Our current duty structure only makes distinctions as it relates to sugar products. It does not distinguish, for example, between brown rice and white rice. And basically all our imported fruits pay significant duties. These are areas that we can look at immediately and bring an impact to the cost of eating healthy,” Branker told the meeting.