Blessed 2020 to everyone. Apologies for the lengthy absence of my column.
I start off 2020 writing about an issue more and more Barbadians are becoming aware of – that of unhealthy diets and the growing prevalence of obesity, especially among our children. I have written about it before and several others, including experts, doctors and other professionals in the field, are also talking about the growing epidemic of unhealthy foods and lifestyles leading to an early onset of NCDs and putting tremendous pressure on our healthcare systems.
I applaud personalities like Cheyne Jones who go public with campaigns like #nosugarNovember and get their followers sensitized to these issues and adopting the same no sugar practices.
We just came out of that time of the year when Barbadians undoubtedly stocked up on food and drinks to celebrate the season, to entertain friends and family and to have a jolly time.
Food is certainly a must when families and friends get together and it is indeed memorable sharing our meals with each other and trying out new recipes. However, we have to be extremely conscious of what we consume and the quantities we eat or drink. I don’t wish to be a spoiler but sensitizing each other to the importance of eating healthy at all times is very important in the age we live in.
We are all aware of, and if you aren’t, then go research the tremendous impact non-communicable diseases are having on the lives of so many Barbadians. And it is not only on the older ones in our society, but that impact is being increasingly witnessed among younger persons as well. Heart disease, strokes, hypertension, and diabetes among other health related complications are manifesting themselves among persons in young age groups.
Sadly, many of us begin to take heed only after we get older. As young persons, full of vigour and vitality, we don’t pay too much attention to what we consume. And unless we are sensitized to the negative effects of many of the foods and drinks on the market today, we won’t be aware of the long term damage we are doing to our bodies by eating and drinking these products.
The Barbados Childhood Obesity Coalition was set up to spread awareness and to combat and prevent the alarming rise in incidents of obesity among children in our society. It has been argued that these incidents have reached epidemic proportions. Several groups, organizations and individuals are part of this Coalition, each playing their respective part in battling this scourge. Youth groups and several young persons are also very active in the coalition and this is extremely commendable. But the struggle requires everyone to play their part in getting the message across – a message that alerts the entire country to the clear and present dangers of the consumption of harmful foods and drinks from an early age.
Regrettably, many of us don’t recognize the dangers in what we are consuming. Many of the food and drinks that are so ‘wonderfully’ and ‘attractively’ marketed today are slowly poisoning our bodies and causing the early onset of health challenges.
I am pleased to have been invited to be part of the Coalition. Becoming a part of a group of persons qualified in so many fields and extremely passionate about the campaign to address the problem of childhood obesity has allowed me to be sensitized to the grave issues. Being aware is important and I believe that for many, it is not understanding the full extent of the problem that causes us not to practise proper healthy lifestyles and insist on the same with our young ones.
I shuddered as I sat in a barber shop just a few weeks ago and overheard a conversation. One guy was saying how his young daughter, probably less than two years old, was reaching over and grabbing for his energy drink, a popular one on the market, and she was not satisfied until she drank almost the entire bottle. He further spoke about her insisting on sno-cones whenever they are in Bridgetown and he having to fulfil that craving.
It is argued that added sugar is an addictive ingredient. In the article Experts Agree: Sugar Might Be as Addictive as Cocaine the writer states: “There’s an increasing body of research that tells us sugar could be as addictive as some street drugs and have similar effects on the brain.”
“Addiction is a strong word,” says Alan Greene, M.D., a children’s health and wellness expert and the author of books like Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green. “In medicine we use ‘addiction’ to describe a tragic situation where someone’s brain chemistry has been altered to compel them to repeat a substance or activity despite harmful consequences. This is very different from the casual use of ‘addiction’ (‘I’m addicted to Game of Thrones!’). So, I’m serious when I say that evidence is mounting that too much added sugar could lead to true addiction,” says Greene.
The link between sugar and addictive behaviour is tied to the fact that when we eat sugar, opioids and dopamine are released.
“Research shows that sugar can be even more addicting than cocaine,” says Cassie Bjork, R.D., L.D., founder of Healthy Simple Life. “Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward center, which leads to compulsive behaviour, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more.”
I was not always a health enthusiast. I loved my soft drinks and other sweet foods but becoming aware of the dangers of what I eat and the long-term effects on my health has caused me to pay more attention to what I consume. I know it is argued that once we eat in portions and don’t overdo, then all should be fine. The challenge is knowing that right portion. If we become addicted, then that threshold will constantly be increasing.
As it relates to our children, it is certainly a human rights issue. Our young ones, just as they have the right not to be abused or hurt in any way, have the right to be exposed to and fed healthy diets.
I support the call for Government to ban sugar-sweetened beverages in our schools and to insist that schools offer healthy foods on their menus.
I am well aware of the challenges our society faces with access to healthier options and the cost associated with some of these products. The Coalition recognizes that there is no one solution but it must be approached from all sides. Overall healthier lifestyles, in mind, body and spirit is what we strive for as a Nation.
As we gather in 2020, let us make it our resolve to do the best we can to cut out unhealthy foods, thoughts and deeds.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: [email protected]