An alliance of health and non-health civil society organizations has issued a frightening prediction about the health of the country’s children in the not-too-distant future.
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) is warning that unless there are drastic changes to their way of life, half of Barbados’ children will be overweight or obese within ten years.
Dr Kenneth Connell, HCC spokesman and president of the Barbados Heart and Stroke Foundation, said a recent study had found that one in every three Barbadian children was obese, but the situation is set to get even worse.
“On the disease trajectory the numbers are going to increase unless we take strategic measures to kind of halt the process,” Dr Connell told Barbados TODAY on the fringes of the launch of health champions.
“If we continue on this path in the next ten years or so it will be one in two. So imagine you have a 50 per cent chance of being overweight or obese as child in this Caribbean region.”
Stressing that the situation was “not just a health issue, it is much bigger than that”, the advocate for the prevention of non-communicable diseases said Government should attack childhood obesity with the same energy, seriousness and concern that the authorities had approached HIV/AIDS after it was identified as a major threat to national development.
“HIV became such a serious national issue. It was totally removed from the Ministry of Health and it was the housed in the Prime Minister’s office because it was seen as something that could wipe out an entire country,” Dr Connell said.
“It raises the question, where should obesity sit? [It is] something else that threatens to wipe out the population,” he added.
With the rate of HIV infection here standing at 1.5 per cent of the population in 2005, the National Strategic Plan for 2005-2025 identified HIV/AIDS as one of the major threats to the island’s overall success as it endangered the country’s human capital.
The National HIV/AIDS Commission, founded in 2001 to manage, control and reduce the spread of HIV here, executed a national plan for HIV prevention and control, with support from the World Bank, which saw condom use among youth climbing from 21 per cent to 72 per cent; about 94 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving a complete course of antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, and 92 per cent of the people living with HIV on an ARV regimen achieving virologic success within six months of treatment.
According to Dr Edward Greene, the United Nations special envoy on HIV to the Caribbean, the UNAIDS 2016 report showed that under one per cent of Barbadians are currently living with HIV.
However, childhood obesity is far more prevalent, according to Dr Connell, who told Barbados TODAY that in 2018 Barbadians were likelier to die from diabetes than from the complications of HIV.
“It is not a health issue, it an economic, social and cultural issue,” he said, adding that an aggressive education campaign was needed to effect behavioural change.
“That behavioural change is not going to happen overnight, but it is going to happen slowly. We have to get adults to see unhealthy kids as unhealthy, and kids to see themselves as unhealthy.
“Once we lose them in their childhood, in their adult lives we have already missed the boat and we are trying to reverse things that are irreversible,” he said.
Dr Connell also suggested that Crop Over was an ideal time to get the message out.
“We are really missing a crucial opportunity. In the Caribbean region we are known for our culture and our expression of ourselves and I just thought that we should not lose the opportunity to marry culture and health,” he said.