Barbadians are being told to brace for increases in heart attacks, strokes and sudden deaths among young people as the prevalence of non-communicable (NCD) diseases among children continues to soar.
And with less than a week to go before the reopening of public schools, child health advocates are pleading with the Ministries of Health and Education to make good on promises to implement a “strong” school nutrition policy.
Francine Charles, Programme Manager of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Project while on Starcom Network’s Down to Brass Tacks programme pointed to World Health Organisation (WHO) calls for bans on the sale and marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools.
She lauded sessions held in July and August this year with Government’s health and education officials, as well as stakeholder organisations on the formulation of a working document to guide the implementation of a school nutrition policy for the start of the new school year.
While the document has not yet been released, Charles hopes it will outline the measures to be taken if canteens and vendors inside and outside of schools do not adhere to the policies.
“I think COVID-19 has really highlighted the significance of us doing the right thing for our children, because clearly in this pandemic we saw the risks for people with NCDs and the fear and psychological trauma that it also causes. We feel that as civil society, we have beaten this discussion for a long time, and to me, COVID-19 is saying to us that it is a wake up call and that is why we are pressing in even harder.
Local officials have set their sights on a 30 per cent reduction in premature mortality by the year 2030, which is currently off track due to the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease among children, according to Clinical Director with the Barbados Diabetes Foundation Dr Dianne Brathwaite.
She however pointed to research which shows that “strong” policies with strong consequences can reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and childhood NCDs by extension.
“We are picking out a group of young people who are developing diseases that we would have previously seen in people who are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. So when you have children developing those disorders at such a young age, it means obviously they are going to be at a much higher risk of developing complications very early in life. So we will be seeing more heart attacks in the 40-year-old age groups and sudden deaths and all of these types of things,” Dr Brathwaite lamented.
“We are already in a situation where one in five people roughly has diabetes in Barbados. If we continue at this rate it may become one in four and we cannot afford it from a financial point of view and even a moral point of view as an adult right now. We do not want the next generation to have more diabetes, blindness, kidney failure, and more heart failure. We have to really take things into perspective and think about what we are doing now if we want to safeguard our future,” she warned.