Paediatrician Professor Anne St John who has voiced concerns about the high percentage of Barbadian children suffering from childhood obesity, is making a call for Government to take immediate action to reverse the epidemic.
She made the call on Tuesday as she delivered remarks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) 2nd Annual Paediatric Data Review Conference on paediatric morbidity and mortality outcomes for the year 2021.
Professor St John who noted she was speaking on behalf of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Barbados Childhood Obesity Coalition stressed that the situation was getting “worse” resulting in the need for immediate Government intervention through the introduction of policies.
She hoped that promises for the proposed school’s nutrition policy to appear before Cabinet will be fulfilled soon.
Professor St John said the coalition also recommend the need for full support both locally and at the level of CARICOM for the implementation of front of package warning labels.
She said encouraging policy coherence across ministries should also be considered along with the necessary legislation.
“Gentle persuasion isn’t going to work anymore. It has been tried over a number of years. We have to have legislation to have some impact on what is happening,” she said.
Professor St John said the statistics show that Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are responsible for eight out of 10 deaths on the island, with a direct and indirect cost of $209 million on the public’s purse annually.
According to the respected paediatrician, it was also concerning that 31 per cent of children in Barbados are considered obese or overweight.
A sign of childhood obesity is a weight well above the average for a child’s height and age. A child or youth is considered as either being overweight or obese based on their Body Mass Index (BMI) which is calculated from a person’s weight in kilograms and height in meters.
According to the doctor, research conducted in 2012 among 700 Class 3 and Class 4 primary school students revealed that 1 in 3 children in Barbados were obese or overweight.
She pointed out that children are not heavily involved in physical activities, but many of them are being fed an unhealthy diet which includes no fruits and vegetables.
And while indicating that there are several factors that lead to childhood obesity, Professor St John said lifestyle changes must be made to prevent or manage the health issue.
“The role of parents, care providers, civil society and Government cannot be underestimated with the capacity to achieve success in this silent pandemic. It is far more devastating, the long-term effects way exceeding the effects of the COVID pandemic.
“The Heart and Stroke Foundation advises switching up what one does, changing the selection of foods and changing what you do and substituting water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages,” the medical practitioner said.
Professor St John said that three years ago, the Heart and Stroke Foundation partnered with six schools, two primary and four secondary institutions, that agreed to be the forerunners in creating a healthy school environment.
She said the schools signed agreements to ban the sale of sugar sweetened beverages and unhealthy foods by the canteens and on the premises, and to instead promote the consumption of water. (AH)