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‘Off limits’

by Shamar Blunt
5 min read

Gov’t urged to bring law to limit marketing of unhealthy foods to children

By Shamar Blunt

Government is being pressed to introduce legislation to curb advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

Chairperson of the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition (BCOP Coalition) Dr Kia Lewis urged this course of action noting that despite the Government’s best efforts to push a healthy eating lifestyle, the influence of the private sector on consumers’ food choices is a real and present concern that may need to be addressed legally.

“You look at companies that would go into schools, they give branded materials, they offer money so that the PTAs in the schools can buy supplies, and it seems like a good community initiative but it really is what we call cradle-to-grave marketing.

“[They] are targeting children from a young age, putting the brands in front of them so that it is constantly on their mind. We recognise that this is an infringement on the rights of our children to make healthy decisions,” Dr Lewis told Barbados TODAY on Friday, during the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados’ special media engagement event to mark the end of the organisation’s Out of Our Schools mass media campaign.

“Our position is that marketing to children in any form, whether it be within the school or within the community, should not be allowed. It should not be legal and we would love to see the Government roll out legislation and enforce things that would prevent this from happening.”

The BCOP Coalition head pointed out that there were laws in other parts of the world which dealt with these issues and Barbados should follow their lead.

“There are legislations in other countries where certain types of ads, you cannot play them before a certain time when children are more likely to be viewing. This is something that ideally we would like to see happen in our own country,” she said.

Dr Lewis said the group was also concerned that some companies which sell unhealthy foods were sponsoring “health” events.

“We see these companies strategically positioning themselves to sponsor school-based events. Again, we do not support this practice and we recognise it as harmful, we recognise it as predatory because children are not able to make informed decisions that they need to make in order to maintain good health,” she said.

“This is something that we have had discussions with the Ministry of Education about and we are hoping that this will be addressed. It is hypocritical to vendors and the canteen concessionaires within the school that they can’t sell certain things, but then allow these big businesses to sponsor major sports events and other school-related activities.”

Dr Lewis added that Barbadians needed to be encouraged to lead healthy lifestyles.

She told Barbados TODAY that the response to the Out of Our Schools campaign which was launched in September 2022 had been overwhelming, with Barbadians showing keen interest in learning new ways to keep their health in check.

Despite that, the BCOP chairperson noted that greater sensitisation was needed since many Barbadians did not know where to start on their health journey.

“There are people who want to do better but they just don’t know how. They need to be equipped with the steps to go forward to be able to make healthier choices [and] to prepare healthier meals,” she said.

“We started with the children because we recognise that children take home information. I’ve had quite a few parents say to me ‘my child has told me that you can’t use that because it would make me fat’ or ‘Mummy, that is too high in sugar, put it back’. That has stemmed from just the recent implementation of the School Nutrition Policy…. Our children are taking home these things, but then how do we reach the parents more directly?”

To assess how Barbadians responded to the media campaign and to also get their thoughts about the Government’s renewed health push, the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES) surveyed 1 080 persons between March and last month.

Seventy-two per cent of the respondents felt the advertisements were more likely to get them to support the Government’s National School Nutrition Policy; 63 per cent supported the Government’s restriction on the sale of unhealthy food and drinks within schools; while 60 per cent said they wanted clear labels on the front of packages to warn them that products contained unhealthy levels of sugars, salts, and fats.

Dr Lewis said that given the results of the survey and the general responses from Barbadians over the course of the last several months, it was time to expand the public education focus beyond what foods were healthy and which were unhealthy.

She said there should be a focus on the preparation of cheaper and healthier dishes.


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