At the height of the festive Crop Over season another warning about our poor eating habits was sounded.
Few probably heard or paid attention. However, it is worth repeating.
“We are eating ourselves to death, and we’re expecting different results, ” cautioned Dr Anne St John as she delivered her parting speech at a Legacy lecture in honour of her retirement from the Department of Paediatrics at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital after more than four decades of service.
Her biggest worry is the nation’s children and the prevailing epidemic of childhood obesity.
Referring to data from a study she conducted in 2010 with a sample of 400 nine and ten-year-olds, Dr St John reported that 33 per cent were overweight or obese and 15 per cent had high blood pressure.
“When a country has a significant proportion of its nine and ten-year-olds suffering from blood pressure there should be alarm bells ringing across the land. But herein lies the insanity because most children are still being fed the low-nourishment, high-fat, sweet foods and drinks,” she said.
Admittedly the data is eight years old, but we suspect the situation has only worsened.
Despite all the evidence before us, the high prevalence of diabetes, cancer, hypertension and other non-communicable diseases, Barbados has been dragging its feet on tackling the problem while we bemoan the spiralling cost of health care.
In fact, from October workers will have to pay a Health Service Contribution to ensure the Queen Elizabeth Hospital can keep up with demands for its services.
One wonders if a change in our eating habits and sedentary lifestyles could have prevented by yet another tax.
Perhaps we are looking for that magic bullet, rather than actually changing our approach, improving access to healthy food and decreasing the wide availability and consumption of non-nutritious sugary drinks.
The bottom line is that if we are serious about protecting and nurturing our children, we have to commit to making the changes that will foster their physical health and future well-being.
Since August 2015, a ten per cent tax on soft drinks was imposed to dampen the taste for fizzy drinks. But it has failed to change consumption patterns.
Dr St John, like other leading medical practitioners, has long argued that the tax was way too meagre to have an impact but there has been no indication that the urgently needed change is imminent.
Not only should the sugar tax on drinks be increased but it should be extended to unhealthy foods products, and the revenue used to fund initiatives to make fruits, vegetable and other nutritious offerings more readily available, attractive and affordable to consumers.
Aside from the sugar tax, there have also been calls for a ban on sweetened beverages in schools. Again there appears to be no movement on the idea. So when the new school year begins in a matter of weeks, there will be little or nothing to stop our children from sipping their way to ill health with tempting sugary drinks.
This failure of the authorities to force change does not help.
In no way are we placing all the blame at the feet of the authorities.
Barbadians too have to get serious about changing their lifestyles.
Walking is not a sin and local fruits and vegetables- breadfruit, sweet potatoes, golden apples and mangoes – are much better options.
Parents, you do have the power to say no to a package of corn curls, gummy bears or that chocolate bar at the checkout.
Get yourself and children moving. Television and smart phones will not stop working if the family ventures out for a walk or a game of good old cricket.
We simply have to take charge of our health. Changing bad habits is difficult but not impossible.
Just think that your life depends on it.