A steering committee is to be set up within the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to assist in the fight against childhood obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), while focusing on food security.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Indar Weir, made the disclosure as he addressed a Vendor Training Workshop, organized by the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF), at The St. Michael School.
According to Minister Weir, the quest for effective solutions to these nagging issues required a multi-sectoral approach, involving the Ministries of Health and Wellness and Education, Technological and Vocational Training; vendors and the public.
He, however, stated that while vendors could help to curb unhealthy eating in children, “the role they would play would go nowhere unless there is a consciousness among our people, who are buying fast-food on a frequent basis just to get through a day.”
The Minister added that the operators of fast-food businesses must be involved in the process, stating: “We, therefore, need to have a conversation, and Heart and Stroke Foundation, I challenge you to take the lead in that conversation in terms of food consumption, preparation and nutrition because I believe you cannot possibly preside over a solution for obesity amongst children, a solution for NCDs and the fast-food providers are not a part of the conversation.”
Noting that food security is centred on access to and consumption of nutritious, high quality foods, Minister Weir said emphasis should also be placed on introducing and encouraging children to eat local foods by preparing them in a healthy and attractive way.
Additionally, he stressed that further promotion of an active lifestyle was also paramount in the fight against childhood obesity.
He added that his Ministry was also seeking to implement change within the island’s school feeding programmes, with assistance from the United Nations Parliamentary Fronts Against Hunger.
Barbados joined the movement in 2017, which was created within the framework of the Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative. It is a political commitment of the region’s countries towards the fight against hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity.
Meanwhile, Jan Phillips of the Heart and Stroke Foundation said their efforts to make schools sugar free zones have been bearing fruit. Noting that the six “model schools” have been doing well, she said they have received numerous calls from other schools on how they could introduce similar initiatives.
She added that they would continue to advocate for a national policy to ban the sale of sweetened beverages in and around schools.
President of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN), Allister Alexander, said while they supported the move, he was encouraging policymakers to consult with all of the relevant stakeholders before finalizing any measures.
“This process is not going to be simple for vendors. It’s a mind shift, but a necessary [one]…. We have to do what we have to for our children,” he added, noting that increased public education was another factor critical to the process.
Mr. Alexander also thanked the HSF for the vendor training exercises held during the year, adding that BARVEN would continue to support efforts to promote healthy living.