Government is spending approximately $64 million a year on cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Acting Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Senator Lucille Moe, made the disclosure last Friday at the launch of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados’ (H&SFB) mass media campaign on childhood obesity prevention at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Stating that this “extravagant cost to government” was as a result of poor dietary food choices passed down through the generations, the senator warned that if these habits were not curbed, especially in the nation’s school-aged children, that figure would increase substantially.
The launch was attended by officials from the Ministries of Education, Health and Agriculture, as well as principals and students from the ‘model’ schools – Christ Church Foundation, Reynold Weekes Primary, The St. Michael School, The Rock Christian School and Queen’s College – which will be implementing the campaign, come September, to become sugar-free zones.
These schools are expected to remove all sugary drinks from their canteens next school year.
The Acting Minister of Education lauded the H&SFB for the campaign, stating that it would assist all Barbadians in helping the nation’s children in living their healthiest lives.
However, she emphasized that it would take a two-pronged approach to address the problem of childhood obesity.
“It is with some concern that I state that obesity is viewed by doctors as a new world epidemic, and one of the world’s fastest growing health concerns.Acting Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Senator Lucille Moe.
Barbados like the rest of all other nations pass on their traditions from generation to generation – whether it is religion, different beliefs and different systems, and of course, also food. It is considered, therefore, that this is going to be a two-pronged approach to childhood obesity prevention and this needs to be adopted.
“First, we have to reduce or limit our love for sugary drinks. Secondly, we have to have more active lifestyles, recognizing that our bodies are to be nurtured and nourished with the right foods and also with correlating physical activities,” Senator Moe stated.
She added that she was disheartened while on her way to work some mornings to see schoolchildren on their commute to school consuming sugary drinks and junk food for breakfast.
Some of them were even accompanied by their parents or guardians, the senator pointed out. “I would be happier if I saw them having an apple or banana, or some piece of fruit…,” the minister said.
Ms. Moe noted that back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Barbadians did not consume as many sugary drinks as their successors. This was in part due to their economic situation, she explained.
Instead, they consumed more natural juices made from local fruits. However, Ms. Moe said the nation was now faced with a situation where many of the island’s youth had adopted North American diets which had some positives, but many negatives as well.
She said that while their parents and grandparents had recreational activities that included a lot of outdoor activities “that were fun and healthy”, today’s children engaged in mostly sedentary activities, which involved being glued to electronic devices for unhealthy periods of time.
Senator Moe said while government had embraced technology to improve the way business was done in Barbados, it also had a down side. She urged parents to monitor and supervise their charges when giving them technological gadgets, so they would not use them at the expense of their health.
“As we embark on the mass media campaign for childhood obesity prevention, my appeal to parents and caregivers of our nation’s children is to be cognizant of the pivotal role that you play in making this campaign a success….
“In order to reap success from such a campaign, it is imperative that every Barbadian play their part. That is, within the home, parents and guardians are required to set the standards for the child in terms of what he or she eats and drinks, and the degree of physical activity [in which] he or she is involved. The school should continue to reinforce the best practices of this campaign and continue their Water Wednesdays and their Fruit Fridays, as well as having a vibrant, physical education programme,” the Acting Education Minister submitted.
She also appealed to vendors who sold snacks on or around school compounds to be mindful of the role they played in feeding the nation’s children.