Government has promised a set of policies to ensure the removal of trans fatty acids from food over the next two years.
Minister of Health Senator Dr The Most Honourable Jerome Walcott said this necessary Government intervention is part of the administration’s attack on incidences of non-communicable diseases.
“Barbados has identified this challenge and is looking to ensure that policies to remove industrially-produced trans fatty acids from the food system are in place by December 2024,” he told the opening day of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) high-level technical meeting on Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and mental health, organised by the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation.
Walcott, the keynote speaker at the event which was held on the premises of the Hilton Barbados Resort, said it was important to adjust the local food system as NCDs and mental health challenges undermined and eroded the development gains of developing states since ill health and disease were high economic burdens.
The minister told the session that the private sector had a major role to play in incidences of NCDs in small islands such as Barbados and it is important that Governments intervened where possible.
“Commercial determinants of health and trade are also important drivers of NCDs in SIDS. Commercial determinants of health [can be] defined as the private sector activities that affect people’s health positively or negatively,” Walcott said.
“Commercial determinants of health . . . can exercise broad influence on the economic, physical, social and cultural environments in which people live. In fact, through their influence on food prices, availability and advertising, trade agreements and policies, they have accelerated the nutritional shift away from traditional diets resulting in increased levels of obesity, food insecurity and NCDs,” Walcott said.
“Sometimes, due to the size and nature of the commercial actors involved, governments in SIDS face impossible odds in securing regulatory protection to improve health. This is particularly true where government resources and budgets may be dwarfed by the size and scale of multinational companies, state-owned enterprises and foreign commercial actors . . . With health, it is imperative to examine the role of commercial actors.
“Understanding these commercial determinants of health, the power balances inherent within them, and the critical role of global governance is an important step in supporting SIDS to improve health outcomes. Food labelling, taxes on unhealthy foods, campaigns to limit the amount of sugar in drinks, and food chain incentives are just some of the regional initiatives that Caribbean SIDS have launched to combat NCDs.”
The health minister said the disruptions in the health system during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the impact of these issues and underscored the importance of having multisectoral approaches to address such matters.
During the event, Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness with Responsibility for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Dr Sonia Browne said NCDs had a significant impact on the mortality rate of small states such as Barbados. She suggested that the conference would help build political momentum and influence domestic action on NCDs and mental health among SIDs.
She explained that the robust discussions and ideas during the event will help to create a document of key recommendations which would be used during a SIDS ministerial conference on the prevention and control of NCDs and mental health in June. (SZB)