A Government Senator is warning that “in the era of the couch potato” Barbadians need to change their eating habits if they are serious about tackling the issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
While stopping just short of telling Barbadians to give up two of their most loved traditional meals altogether, Senator Dr Crystal Haynes recommended cutting back on the consumption of macaroni pie and souse.
Addressing an international conference on NCDs at the UN House today, the medical practitioner said there was a need for a change in cultural behaviour, as she lamented that too often people were only satisfied that a child was happy or “seemed healthy” if it were fat.
“So we need to do a bit of introspection and consider our perceptions of what is normal and healthy,” Haynes told the audience, which included regional and international diplomatic officials.
“We, at least here in Barbados, must also examine our dietary norms – traditions, including souse on a Saturday or our love of macaroni pie. Secondly, we need to consider genetic factors,” she said, while acknowledging that in some cases, biological factors may predispose people to obesity and other NCDs.
“Most importantly, we must address behaviour [and] how our lifestyle and food consumption patterns influence the development of obesity. As long as energy input exceeds energy expenditure there will be an accumulation of fat,” the medical doctor explained.
She said while her older patients often attributed their longevity to a trust in God, healthy eating and some exercise, they were also part of a generation of people who engaged in more walking and ate what they grew.
Making it clear that she was not condemning people’s eating habits, Haynes admitted that she too fell short “from time to time”.
“But we find ourselves in the era of the couch potato. TV and tablet time have replaced activities that got adults and children out of the house. [Also] our taste has evolved in a way that is probably not in our best interest. We prefer sweet, salty, fatty and processed,” she lamented, adding that “sometimes it is a matter of access and convenience”.
Haynes also suggested that the adults should take the blame for what the children consume.
“For the kids, the vendor at the school gate has a tray full of chocolate bars, potato chips and sodas, not fruits and water. For mums and dads, store-bought, drive-thrus or dining out are better suited to our fast-paced life. Perhaps we have fallen victim to clever marketing – we see famous sporting figures and local celebrities feature in the campaigns of different fast food franchises,” Haynes acknowledged.
While insisting that Government’s role was mainly to provide the policy and legislation conducive to promoting healthy lifestyle habits, Haynes noted that calls had been made for an increase in the ten per cent tax on sweetened beverages, which was introduced three years ago, but stopped short of saying if the Mia Mottley administration would heed those calls.
However, she said Government recognized the burden that NCDs placed on households, the society and the economy, adding that most recent figures showed that up to 2012 about 11 per cent of Government expenditure went towards public health financing, while NCDs accounted for about 5.3 per cent of gross domestic product.
“We can all acknowledge that behaviour change is required, but further to this, a strategic battle plan is required for us to win this fight,” Haynes told the conference, which was held under the patronage of Miss World Barbados Ashley Lashley, in association with the American University of Barbados.
Even as she lauded a number of organizations for their research, advocacy and policies, Haynes said Government would continue to listen, consult and collaborate with individuals and entities “all for the greater good of all Barbadians”.
Meanwhile, UNICEF representative Dr Aloys Kamuragiye suggested that Barbados and other regional countries should tackle NCDs on three broad levels – through policy and legislation, standards and regulation and public campaigns.
“We need national policies and legislation to regulate the advertising of junk food to children, including on social media,” he said, adding that better regulation was also needed when it came to physical education and the sale of unhealthy food to children.
He also called for standards to regulate the quality of food distributed through school feeding programmes, while calling for “social and cultural norms that lead to NCDs” to be addressed.