While health education remains an important strategy to address the challenge of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), it is not enough to bring about the change in behaviour which is required to save lives.
According to Health Minister, John Boyce, what is required at this time is a strong policy response to arrest the current trend.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Sub-regional Seminar on Tobacco and Trade at the Accra Beach Hotel today, Mr. Boyce made it clear that he was aware that taxation was not “a magic bullet”.
He however submitted: “As a Government, our role is to protect the health and well-being of citizens. Therefore, we must use whatever legal and policy measures are at our disposal to make it easier for people to choose a healthy snack, to eat in a smoke-free environment in a restaurant or for our children to have access to healthy meals in and around schools.”
He welcomed the focus of the seminar on the application of taxation and the implications of trade policies as effective measures to reduce consumption patterns.
The Health Minister told those gathered that while the evaluation of Barbados’ experience with the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was still ongoing, he believed that the imposition of the tax sent a strong signal to the population of Government’s willingness to take action to address the root causes of the obesity problem.
He said that the rising level of obesity in the school-aged population continued to be of great concern and the Ministry of Health was currently preparing a set of policy options to address the marketing of unhealthy foods to children while they were at school.
Measures to be considered by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on NCDs and subsequently, by the full Cabinet, will include a ban on the sale and promotion of sugar-sweetened beverages on school premises.
Mr. Boyce cited the challenge of an “obesogenic environment”, in which advertising and marketing strategies, social media and popular culture exerted a major influence on lifestyle choices. This influence, he noted, competed with public health information and often won, thus posing a great challenge for public health practitioners.
“Solutions to the NCD problem will require improved collaboration and dialogue between government and industry, academic institutions, health professionals, civil society, labour unions, financing agencies, other government sectors and the general public,” he stated.
The Health Minister hoped that the PAHO/WHO meeting would serve as the impetus to influence governments to make greater use of policy and legislative measures to respond to the crisis.
“I am confident that you will be able to provide guidance that will help your governments to be creative and decisive in their decision making,” he told participants.