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Caution against manufacturers being allowed to influence healthy eating policies

by Barbados Today
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Caribbean health advocates are adamant that industry players are hampering healthy food policy efforts and should not be allowed to influence these strategies.
Executive Director of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition Maisha Hutton said there is growing consensus that opposition to healthy food policies from the commercial sector is presenting the most significant barriers to tackling obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
She noted that these illnesses, which cost Caribbean governments millions of dollars annually, are fuelled by overconsumption of cheap, widely available and heavily-marketed ultra-processed foods high in sugars, fats and sodium and manufactured and produced by industries at the expense of the health of the region.
Speaking at the People Over Profit virtual media launch on Thursday, Hutton joined with a cross-section of regional civil society organisations in pointing out that efforts to fast-track comprehensive healthy food policies, including front-of-package labelling, the regulation of the sale and marketing of ultra-processed foods in schools, the taxation of unhealthy foods and beverages and the subsidisation of healthy foods to increase the affordability, have been held up throughout most of the region, even in the face of global and regional health authorities support.
“The pace of implementation of these evidence-based policies has been slow, with only a handful of countries having sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, school regulations, and no country in the region having front-of-package warning labelling despite strong evidence. Governments must prioritise addressing conflict of interest and policy interference by actors in the private sector who have vested interests, many of which have been successful in delaying, diluting and altogether derailing key policies,” she added.
Admitting that industry players were often the main sponsors for school and community events that can have an influencing impact, Executive Director of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network Shannique Bowden said a balance must be struck between public health and the interests of industry.
Echoing these sentiments, Project Manager of Global Health Advocacy at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica Barbara McGaw said that pushback from the food and beverage industry had led to a rejection of the most effective front-of-label package warning.
She added, however, that several of the industry players have already indicated their intention to create healthier products, not only for the local markets but for export.
Speaking on Barbados’ successes so far in implementing healthy food policies, Programme Manager with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados’ Childhood Obesity Prevention Campaign Francine Charles stated that manufacturers here were introducing new products to keep in line with these strategies.
In addition, she pointed out that the Government’s assistance in bringing industry and civil society to the same place was instrumental to developing an action plan.
“This approach is going to be critical if we are ever to see a health-based policy implemented and sustained in Barbados and in the wider region. Courageous leadership, evidence-based interventions, strong and persistent civil society voices and supportive solution-oriented multi-stakeholder involvement,” she said.
(JB)

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