Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados TODAY Inc.
by Suleiman Bulbulia
World Health Day 2021 is being observed on April 7th under the theme Building a fairer, healthier world.
As the World Health Organisation recognises, “COVID-19 has highlighted, some people are able to live healthier lives and have better access to health services than others – entirely due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age.”
While the virus doesn’t discriminate the reality is persons who lack the means to get adequate health responses will ultimately suffer the consequences.
The Barbados Government has done well in ensuring that everyone gets an appropriate and equal access to medical attention in this pandemic. This response by Government is laudable and has helped in making Barbados one of the countries that have managed the onset of the virus and allowed for minimal casualties.
Barbadians, however, face an even more sinister pandemic and that is reflected in the high percentage of persons coping with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). I have written about this several times before and many experts have made their feelings known on this subject.
What is being recognized more and more is that Government intervention is critical at this juncture. And this is especially important as it relates to our children, teenagers and young adults. We can no longer afford to sit back and wish the problem away. Our future is at stake.
We know the problem, we have the research, the statistics, which we repeat over and over again, speak for themselves. One in three children in Barbados is overweight or obese, eight out 10 deaths in Barbados are caused by NCDs, one in five adult Barbadians has diabetes, 66 per cent of adults is overweight and the prevalence of obesity is almost twice as high in women (43 per cent) as in men (23 per cent).
The highest chunk of the health budget of this country goes to the care and treatment of NCDs. Millions are spent annually just on this. So we are in a health crisis. Not the Covid pandemic alone but the NCD crisis.
What are we doing? The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados Inc. along with the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, made up of over two dozen civil society organizations, several individuals and many youth advocates along with other groups and persons are working tirelessly to bring attention to this health crisis and to advocate for policies that will ensure Barbadians are given the options and the opportunities to have easier, cheaper access to healthier foods and to make unhealthy options less attractive and enticing.
Having spent the last few years assisting in this work I have come to recognise it is a struggle and literally we are in a battle for the minds and health of this Nation. What we are doing is attempting to reverse a culture that has been imbedded in our psyche that pushes us to want to indulge in foods and drinks that do nothing to improve our health and actually slowly poison our bodies.
For World Health Day this year the Coalition youth advocates will be having a ‘Virtual Day of Action’. Their day of action will be focused on demanding the National School Nutrition Policy. What is being demanded is that “decision makers need to implement the National School Nutrition Policy in Barbados by September 2021.” The Policy has been discussed, consulted on and put together, what is required now is implementation. We can no longer afford to be bogged down by implementation deficits. Our children deserve better and they have a right to a healthier school environment. An environment where they:
• Are free from sugary beverages in schools
• Are free from predatory marketing of unhealthy foods
and beverages, especially in schools
• Have equitable access to cheap, healthy and
• Have equitable access to inclusive activity spaces and physical education in schools
These are not unattainable asks. These are practical solutions to a grave problem. Our schools must become health promoting schools if we wish to have a future generation free from the burden of health complications brought on by NCDs.
“A health promoting school is one that constantly strengthens its capacity as a healthy setting for living, learning and working.
“A health promoting school:
“Fosters health and learning with all the measures
at its disposal.
“Engages health and education officials, teachers, teachers’ unions, students, parents, health providers and community leaders in efforts to make the school a healthy place.
“Strives to provide a healthy environment, school health education, and school health services along with school/community projects and outreach, health promotion programmes for staff, nutrition and food safety programmes, opportunities for physical education and recreation, and programmes for counselling, social support and mental health promotion.
“Implements policies and practices that respect an individual’s well-being and dignity, provide multiple opportunities for success, and acknowledge good efforts and intentions as well as personal achievements.
“Strives to improve the health of school personnel, families and community members as well as pupils; and works with community leaders to help them understand how the community contributes to, or undermines, health and education.”
This day of action comes on the heels of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s campaign over the last three weeks titled “Are we drinking ourselves sick?” This is an important question that we must all ask ourselves and alert us to what we are allowing our children to consume. Research has shown that 73 per cent of Barbadian children aged 13-15 drink one or more carbonated soft drinks per day. One sugary drink a day increases the likelihood of children being overweight by 55 per cent and increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 26 per cent in adulthood. Sugary drinks often have no nutritional value and are particularly harmful to the body in liquid form. Carbonated soft drinks are especially harmful and lead to faster tooth decay and other health issues.
Barbadians have adopted a fast-food lifestyle that is fast becoming a pandemic. Fast-food establishments and multi-national corporations that make millions from affecting our health, fight bitterly moves towards highlighting these issues and have consistently oppose change.
Our politicians have to do better by the people. They must create the enabling environment that gives us the freedom and the opportunity to choose healthier options. They must do right by our children by making our schools health promoting institutions.
As PM Mottley would scold us and say “cut it out”. Let us all work in cutting out the unhealthy diets.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the U.W.I, Cave Hill Campus and Chair, Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition. Email: [email protected]