Three ministries are to collaborate to fight against childhood obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) while focusing on food security, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir has told school vendors undergoing training in offering healthier alternatives.
At a vendor training workshop, organized by the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF), at The St Michael School, Weir said the quest for effective solutions to these nagging issues required a cross-ministerial approach that will also involve the Ministries of Health and Wellness, Education, Technological and Vocational Training along with vendors and the public.
But while insisting that vendors could help to curb unhealthy eating in children, “the role they would play would go nowhere unless there is a consciousness among our people, who are buying fast-food on a frequent basis just to get through a day”, he said.
The Agriculture Minister added that fast-food restaurants must be involved in the process, stating: “We, therefore, need to have a conversation, and Heart and Stroke Foundation, I challenge you to take the lead in that conversation in terms of food consumption, preparation and nutrition because I believe you cannot possibly preside over a solution for obesity amongst children, a solution for NCDs and the fast-food providers are not a part of the conversation.”
Noting that food security is centred on access to and consumption of nutritious, high-quality food, Weir said the emphasis should also be placed on introducing and encouraging children to eat local foods by preparing them in a healthy and attractive way.
Additionally, he stressed that further promotion of an active lifestyle is also paramount in the fight against childhood obesity.
The Ministry of Agriculture is also seeking to implement change within the island’s school feeding programmes, with assistance from the United Nations Parliamentary Fronts Against Hunger, he added.
Barbados joined the movement in 2017, which was created within the framework of the Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative. It is a political commitment towards the fight against hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity.
Meanwhile, Jan Phillips of the Heart and Stroke Foundation told the workshop that its efforts to make schools sugar-free zones have been bearing fruit.
Six schools involved in a pilot of the initiative have been doing well, she said, adding that the HSF has received numerous calls from other schools on how they could introduce similar initiatives. She said the foundation would continue to advocate for a national policy to ban the sale of sweetened beverages in and around schools.
But speaking on behalf of vendors, the president of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN), Allister Alexander, said that while they supported the move, he was encouraging policymakers to consult with “all of the relevant stakeholders” before finalizing any measures.
Alexander said: “This process is not going to be simple for vendors. It’s a mind shift, but a necessary [one].
“We have to do what we have to for our children.”
He suggested that increased public education would be critical towards a successful shift in children’s consumption patterns.
Alexander also thanked the HSF for the vendor training exercises held during the year, adding that BARVEN would continue to support efforts to promote healthy living.
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