By Joy Springer
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- The ministry of health continues to warn Barbadian parents that childhood obesity is a major forerunner to the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Health Minister John Boyce said on Wednesday that not only were obese children at higher risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, but they might also experience social and psychological problems such as discrimination, bullying, low self-esteem and social isolation.
He was speaking at the opening ceremony of a meeting convened by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to discuss the issue of childhood obesity in the Caribbean.
The health minister reminded his audience, comprising regional health professionals, that CARPHA had revealed in 2015 that the region was in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic.
According to PAHO, the number of overweight children in the Caribbean has doubled in the last ten years, and the World Health Organization estimates that of the 42 million overweight children under the age of five globally, close to 31 million are from middle and low-income countries.
Boyce submitted: “As a Caribbean region, we have faltered in our response to the epidemic of childhood obesity, with many countries in the region reporting prevalence rates in excess of 30 percent in the pre-teen and teenage population.”
In Barbados, he said, one challenge was that the diet of many Barbadians had deviated from the consumption of locally grown, homemade food, to imported foods, high in salt, added sugars and trans-fat.
He blamed this on the fast-paced lifestyle of modern families, which resulted in less preparation of food at home and more purchasing of unhealthy fast food. According to the Global School Health Survey, 18.5 percent of Barbadian school children, aged 13 to 15, ate fast food three or more days a week and 70 percent drank carbonated sweet drinks once a day.
The minister also expressed concern about “widespread unregulated advertising and marketing” of unhealthy foods to children. To counter some of this, he said the ministry of health was working with partners in information technology to develop effective messaging for the “techno-savvy generation”, particularly in relation to salt and sugar reduction.
Pointing out that the problem was further exacerbated by decreased physical activity as children gravitated towards sedentary recreation revolving around electronic devices, he called for greater enforcement of the policy of physical education in schools, and suggested that more time be allocated to this on the curriculum.
Boyce also highlighted the work being done in his ministry under the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Programme (BCHOPP). BCHOPP aims to strengthen breastfeeding practices; promote physical activity; implement the concept of health promoting schools; strengthen coordination and management of obesity prevention; and develop and implement dietary regulating and fiscal policies.
He announced that last January, Cabinet approved the National Breastfeeding Policy for Barbados, which supports exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.