With the number of overweight children in Barbados and the Caribbean swiftly increasing, the Ministry of Health is calling for a national response to the problem starting from birth.
According to Acting Chief Medical officer Dr Anton Best while one in ten children age five to 19 are overweight globally, the Caribbean figures were even more alarming with one in three children being listed as overweight.
Addressing stakeholders gathered at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s Eastern Caribbean Launch of The State of the World’s Children Report at the Radisson Aquatica Dr Best acknowledged that poor diets were damaging children’s health worldwide and stressed that reducing obesity and Non Communicable Diseases (NCD)’s could be achieved through strong breast-feeding habits from as early.
As such, he thanked UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for their inclusion and support for Barbados in their Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative.
Launched in 1991, the programme aims to support and protect practices, which promote breast-feeding. Though it was being reassessed in 2017, Best anticipated the hospital would be re-accredited by next year.
“We anticipate that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital will be certified by next year. Through this initiative, we are capitalising on the numerous health advantages of breast-feeding including of course its positive influence on the reduction of childhood obesity and thus lessening of the risks of chronic diseases
in later life,” said the acting Chief Medical Officer.
Pointing to the WHO’s School Health Survey conducted in 2012 among secondary school students, Dr Best reported the prevalence of overweight and obese children in Barbados was 32% and 15% respectively with the proportion of female obesity slightly higher than for boys. At the time, children were failing to achieve recommended physical activity, exercise level and healthy diets. According to recent indications, the situation has not improved.
“It is clear that we have a major problem on our hands. One that is complex and driven by a myriad of social, cultural and economic factors and because of the multifaceted nature of this problem, a whole of government approach is warranted,” he said, while pointing out the Ministry of Health and Wellness could not force change alone.
“It is therefore imperative that we at the Ministry of Health and Wellness partner with key stakeholders to combat this threat. Such allies include other ministries and government departments, civil society partners, such as the Heart and troke Foundation of Barbados and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition.”
He added that at the household level, families needed to be empowered and children needed to be guided toward healthier nutritional options.
“Driving food suppliers to do the right thing for children by incentivising the provision of healthy, convenient and affordable foods, building healthy food environments for children and adolescents by using proven approaches
such as accurate and easy to understand labelling and stronger controls on the marketing of unhealthy food to children,” were among his suggestions for turning the situation around.