Two out of three Barbadians say they are “very concerned” about childhood obesity, according to an opinion poll released today.
But while most of those surveyed by the polling organisation CADRES want to see action against the epidemic, almost three out of four children drank sugar-laden soda every day, and about one in five ate fast food three to four times a week, according to another survey of school children.
Most Barbadians prefer the Government to lead the fight against childhood obesity, even as they recognise the personal actions that need to be taken against weight gain.
The findings were revealed as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which commissioned the survey, launched the poll of public concerns about obesity and the measures required to combat it, at the Hilton Barbados hotel this morning.
CADRES pollster Corey Sandiford, said the survey took place between November and December last year, and covered all 30 constituencies.
He revealed that obesity, especially among children, was a major concern for over 80% of the group surveyed.
Sandiford said: “The first question we asked was how concerned Barbadians are about the problem with obesity in Barbados. 84 per cent said they were concerned, and of that group 57 per cent said they were very concerned. In terms of obesity in children, 88 per cent said they were concerned, with 66 per cent stating that they were very concerned.”
Respondents were also asked what they thought contributed to the growing incidence of obesity on the island. Sandiford said over two thirds of them agreed on the contributing factors.
He added: “More than 80 per cent of the respondents said eating big portions, fast food, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, and drinking beverages high in sugar were major contributors, and what exacerbated it was the fact that these foods were readily available and cheaper than the healthier alternatives.”
The group surveyed agreed that Government should take the lead in dealing with the problem, starting with the island’s schools.
The CADRES pollster revealed that “78 per cent said Government’s role was very important, and when it came to the nutritional environment at schools, two thirds of the respondents said it was unhealthy, but 97 per cent acknowledged that it was important for it to be healthy so children can learn and perform well in school”.
He noted people were in agreement with some of the suggestions made, including having nutritional standards at schools, restricting the sales and advertising of unhealthy food and beverages, limiting the sale of such items within 100 metres of a school property, and the importance of clean drinking water.”
Beyond the school system, 61 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the restriction of advertising unhealthy foods on mass media, and 89 per cent agreed with “front of package” nutrition information on any food items purchased.
Sandiford concluded that the survey overall showed “Barbadians are concerned about obesity as a national health issue, they are ready to act on the ideas presented and believe Government should drive the process”.
Director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados, Professor Dr Anne St. John, underlined the role that parents’ own health status can play in a child’s own weight prospects.
The prominent paediatrician said: “If parents are of normal weight, the likelihood of the child being born overweight is less than seven per cent. If one parent is overweight, there is a 40 per cent chance, and if both parents are overweight, this increases to 80 per cent. With children between the ages of three and five years old, their risk of becoming obese increases from 24 per cent with no obese parents to 62 per cent with one obese parent, and two thirds of children who are obese at ten will be obese as adults.”
She noted that Barbados has gone from a situation of malnutrition in the 1960s to increasing levels of obesity today. Much of it has to do with the choices people make at meal-time.
Professor St. John said: “A Barbados student population survey revealed that 18.5 per cent of children ate fast food three to four times a week, 73.3 per cent drank at least one carbonated beverage high in sugar a day, and 15% had no vegetables or fruit in the past month.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados also used this morning’s event to officially announce champions for its Childhood Obesity Prevention campaign, who will be used to get the message across to all Barbadians.
Professor St. John is taking the lead in the initiative. The other champions are Miss Barbados World 2018, Ashley Lashley; Senator Dr Crystal Haynes; Crystal Boyea; comedian Carl Alff Padmore; recently retired veteran trade unionist Orlando Gabby Scott; calypso giant Stedson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire; Suleiman Bulbulia, a spokesman for the Muslim community; Hedda Phillips-Boyce; Sharon Christie; Daniel Alleyne and Dr Janelle Bryan.