The Ministry of Health is becoming increasingly concerned about ???the subtle and not so subtle marketing??? of unhealthy foods to children.

Minister of Health, John Boyce, has urged the food industry to respond to the challenge of promoting healthier eating by reducing the fat, sugar and salt levels in food and making healthier choices available to Barbadians.

He has also appealed to parents not to take the easy approach but to ensure that their children were educated to appreciate the value of proper nutrition and physical activity to their development.

Mr. Boyce was addressing a workshop on childhood obesity, hosted by the Pan American Health Organisation at its Dayrells Road headquarters. The three-day workshop attracted health care professionals from the public and private sectors.

He revealed that according to a survey of the school-aged population in Barbados, rates of obesity and overweight were in excess of 30 per cent. The survey also noted that more than 70 per cent of students drank one or more carbonated soft drink every day, and an equal number participated in little or no physical activity

Increasingly, the Health Minister said, obese children were being diagnosed with a range of health conditions previously seen almost exclusively in adults, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems and psychosocial problems.

Additionally, an obese child was more than likely to become an obese adult, with all the concomitant disease and ill-health.

Given Barbados??? epidemiological profile, Mr. Boyce noted the Ministry???s support for exclusive breast feeding for the first six months of a child???s life, followed by fortified infant formula and gradual introduction of a varied diet, which included fruit and vegetables.

???The prevention of weight gain is easier, less expensive and more effective than treating obesity???The combination of physical activity and diet is a powerful instrument in this regard, and is more effective in the promotion of the loss of body fat than either method alone,??? he maintained.

While recognising the challenge of reversing entrenched lifestyle practices, the Health Minister said his Ministry was committed to turning around ???this alarming trend in our children???.

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