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Unhealthy Eating To 'Destroy' Economy If Left Unchecked

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

DISEASES linked to unhealthy eating will "destroy" the Bahamian economy if left unchecked, a Cabinet Minister has warned, admitting that planned 'breadbasket' food reforms may be viewed as "blasphemy".

Dr Duane Sands, minister of health, told Tribune Business that the proposed changes were designed to "dramatically alter the trajectory" of lost productivity, worker absenteeism and increased healthcare costs that result from poor Bahamian dietary habits.

He added that this was "a significant part" of the explanation for why the Bahamian people were getting "terrible results" and poor value for money from the $800 million this nation spent annually on healthcare, with the country ranked between 120th-130th in the world for care outcomes. Disclosing that the total overhaul of the breadbasket food item line-up, proposed for the 2018-2019 Budget year, will form a key part of National Health Insurance (NHI) or whatever healthcare model the Bahamas chooses, Dr Sands said the economic implications were "ominous" if this nation failed to change its habits. "We'll put them on," he told Tribune Business of healthier foods, "with the hope this allows the diffusion of the belief that's too expensive to eat healthy. "We spend $800 million a year on healthcare which means the Bahamas is in the top 30 on expenditure per capita, yet on healthcare outcomes it's between 120-130th in terms of results.

"We're spending huge amounts of money and getting terrible results, and a significant part of that is what we put in our bodies."

Tribune Business revealed last week that the Government is proposing a total transformation of the so-called 'breadbasket' food list, which is comprised of price-controlled products whose costs are kept artificially low by state regulation.

Dr Sands conceded that, through these subsidies, successive administrations have effectively incentivised Bahamians to 'poison themselves' by purchasing low-cost unhealthy foods that contribute to the high level of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in this nation.

By reforming the contents of the 'breadbasket', the Minnis administration is thus attempting to align tax and economic policies with the Bahamas' dietary health needs for the first time since the 1970s.

"This is more than an academic exercise," Dr Sands reiterated to Tribune Business. "This is intended to dramatically alter the trajectory we're on.

"Look at the communique from the 2007 CARICOM meeting in Trinidad. They made it very clear that NCDs will destroy most of the economies of CARICOM if the trend continues. No economy would be robust enough to accommodate the increased cost of the NCDs.

"In 2007, it was predicted that between 2007 and 2027 that the CARICOM countries would see a 300 per cent increase in deaths from cardiovascular diseases. That's just deaths, it doesn't include complaints, morbidity."

Describing the findings as "ominous", Dr Sands said the spread of NCDs in the Bahamas had proceeded "at such a clip that no matter how robust your economic growth, you could never have enough surplus to pay for what you were creating with the rise in NCDs".

The Minister's warning of spiralling healthcare, economic and social costs if the increase in NCDs is not arrested was backed by a recently-released Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report, which found that such illnesses typically impose an "economic impact" of up to 8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on Caribbean countries.

In the Bahamian context, that could mean NCDs are costing this country between $640 million to $880 million per year, depending on whether $8 billion or the new $11 billion GDP - as measured by the Department of Statistics - is used as the calculation base.

"The Bahamas currently faces critical challenges due to an increase in chronic diseases (CD)," the IDB report warned. "Epidemiological figures illustrate the magnitude of the problem. The prevalence of overweight and obesity is high in all age groups: 13 per cent of school children; 45 per cent and 21 per cent of adolescents; 72 per cent and 43 per cent of women; and 66 per cent and 27 per cent of men, respectively.

"Several factors contribute to this epidemic, including poor dietary practices constituted by irregular feeding patterns and high caloric intake due to the consumption of food with high caloric density and low nutritional value, which is widely available and more expensive in comparison with local food. Furthermore, sedentary behaviour is generalised, with 72 per cent of adults aged 24 to 64 reporting that they do not engage in physical activity."

The IDB report, titled 'Associated factors of healthy lifestyle in the Bahamas', added that NCDs account for 45 per cent of all deaths in this country. It added that the economic and demographic consequences represented "a complex problem for the Government".

"The top three leading causes of years of life lost (YLL) due to premature deaths - ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes - are related to NCDs, and these three causes of YLL have been steadily growing over the past 20 years," the IDB report said.

"Though life expectancy has been consistently increasing, if the prevalence of NCDs continues to rise, it will reduce these gains in the short run. The probability of dying from an NCD between the ages of 30 and 70 is 18 per cent in non-Latin Caribbean countries, the highest in the Americas."

Dr Sands and his Ministry of Health team will meet this Wednesday with their counterparts from the Ministry of Labour and Price Control Commission to further develop the proposed 'breadbasket' list reforms prior to seeking Cabinet approval and issuing them for further public consultation.

Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, confirmed that he and his officials were strong supporters of the initiative led by Dr Sands. "One of the main concerns we have is the majority of the items on the price-controlled list are, generally speaking, foods not as healthy as they can be, such as fruits and vegetables, which are not on the list," he said.

"We're in the preliminary stages. Everything is subject to Cabinet approval. The main thing is he and I [Dr Sands] are very serious about it. The chair of the Price Control Commission, Syndia Dorsett, this is something she feels very strongly about and is agitating for it."

Mr Foulkes said the recommended reforms, if adopted, would have "multiple effects" including a healthier, better life for many Bahamians which would allow them to be more productive in the workforce. There would also be a reduced burden and cost for the healthcare system.

"The main thing is for Bahamians to live a healthier life and enjoy life," he told Tribune Business. "There are a lot of social and economic benefits."

Dr Sands, meanwhile, told Tribune Business that the proposed 'breadbasket' food reforms will be critical to the Government's preventative medicine strategy and whatever form of healthcare is adopted by this nation.

"Whatever model we adopt for healthcare, an integral and essential part of it is prevention, prevention, prevention," he added. "We believe we have to start with what we have, look at it critically, blow it up and start over.

"If we take the approach that the breadbasket is an evidence-based basket that looks at nutrition, looks at health rather than just providing a meal, perhaps we can start to turn the tide."

Dr Sands identified some of the foods proposed for inclusion in the new 'breadbasket' line-up as fruits, whole wheat bread, "certain healthy grains", fish in water "as opposed to fish in oil", and beans.

"I'm sure one of the criticisms will be 'My favourite food is not on the list' or 'I'm allergic to what's on the list'," the Minister added. "We'll accept that.

"The concept is that the 'breadbasket', at least the one we're recommending, according to the evidence as we understand it will be beneficial in terms of health as opposed to harmful. When you look at a number of the items people consider staples, it's little wonder we have the challenges we do."

Among the so-called 'staples' likely to be ditched from the 'breadbasket' list are the likes of corn beef and sugar, which Dr Sands acknowledged was "almost like blasphemy".

"You can tell a Bahamian that corn beef is not good for you," he told Tribune Business. "That's an easy intelligent discussion, but from an emotional point of view that's like saying 'there's no apple pie'.

"We're not saying you can't eat it. We're saying we're not going to be in the business of subsidising the cost."

Comments

ohdrap4 6 months, 1 week ago

Well they just eliminated the duty on potato chips, and juices loaded with high fructose corn syrup-- that gives you belly fat.

OTOH they charge 35% duty on nuts.

None of the above is on the breadbasket list.

Salmon and shrimp are now duty free and their price still does not match chicken parts. these will not be affordable to the guy on minimum wage , even if price controled.

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bogart 6 months, 1 week ago

Excellent ideas. While its not in the Health Mjnistry portfolio given the huge fishing territory it is time the govt either start its own Fisheries Fleet or put out tenders for others to get it accomplished.

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John 6 months, 1 week ago

Government has a task at hand that seems huge but it is one that isf conquered can solve or aid in relieving many other problems in the country. With thousands of Bahamians on food aid program government can require that each of these families get a supply of fish/conch and locally grown fruits and veggies. Can you imagine how many farmers and fishermen this can put to work? So it will not only reduce unemployment but also pump much needed cash into the family islands. And this will be hundreds of thousands less food that has to be imported. So it will reduce the outflow of cash from the country. And healthier food means healthier living. And healthier living means less people in hospital beds and more on the beaches and on the parks and even traveling abroad. Then pack up a lot of this foreign garbage they are dumping that is diseased infested and send it back whence it came. Even that which comest from China and Japan.

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bogart 6 months ago

Given the archepelago from top walkers down to Turks border the Bahamas has some eastern border of ATLANTIC OCEAN some 500 miles of Atlantic ocean border underutilized fishing resources. Baffling with such enormous gigantic untapped ocean resources govt allocates huge budgets to develop land based crops. We can feed Bahamians fish just like Singapore a nation that consumes large amounts of fish.

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seamphony 6 months ago

feeding your kids wendy's or kfc is not parenting. bahamians see fast food as affordable luxury. take 20-30 mins out of your day and cut up some fruits and vegetables for yourself and your children people...

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ohdrap4 6 months ago

I wonder if people composing the breadbasket list have seen what is on the breadbasket list.

Most of the unhealthy food is not on the breadbasket list: chips, soda, fastfood, ramen noodles, gallons of pink and purple drink.

Take the corned beef from the list. Fine. People will still eat five slices of bologna or armour sausages for breakfast with grits. The kids will still buy little baggies of "Salty" at school.

you cannot save people from themselves. I served ice tea to a visitor at my home, and she was impressed and said she would switch from soda. She then told me she bought a bottle of ice tea from the food store. It was 280 calories of pure sugar, it is not healthy as the no sugar one i make at home.

The merchants will not allow anything added to the price control list, they just want things taken out. please note they were consulted ahead of the nutrionists, who will then have a ready made veto list. Only after all the kemosabe have their say, the public will be INFORMED, informed, not consulted, got that?.

Try to buy condensed milk in the US. It is 5 dollars for a can.

Try to buy Ruth or Foca detergent powder in the US, it is much more than locally here. Poor people need the cheap detergent to wash their clothes, wash dishes and clean their bathroom.

Poor people, who cannot afford deodorant or perfume, need soap and washing powder to go work menial jobs and not stink.

It is not only the illegals or foreigners who are poor. There are many born bahamians who are closeted poor. Even if it is because 75% of their salary is committed and all they can eat is mackerel (which is not on the price control list, btw)

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killemwitdakno 6 months ago

Penalty for bad foo without even knowing nutrition will surely help. Get a nutritionalist.

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