By FARRAH JOHNSON
NON-PROFIT group Healthy Lifestyles Team (HaLT) of the Cancer Society of The Bahamas is advocating for a ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in or near local schools.
HaLT is also calling on for regional leaders, like CARICOM Heads of Government, to enact policies and legislation that will increase taxes on those products.
“Impose a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, ban the sale, promotion and marketing of sugar sweetened beverages and unhealthy fast food and junk food in schools,” the group’s statement read, “and push for the adoption and application of regional standards for nutritional and front of packaging labelling of foods and beverages, in order to combat childhood overweight and obesity.”
The non-profit group is comprised of a team of volunteers, including obesity medicine specialists, doctors, nurses, teachers, exercise enthusiasts, nutritionists, as well as concerned citizens.
Dr Phillip Swann, public health specialist and general practitioner, said HaLT’s mission is to “educate, inspire, and empower people”, and “to promote healthy lifestyles in children”, in order to decrease the rate of childhood obesity, and “halt the rise” of non-communicable diseases.
“Forty-five percent of Bahamian children are either overweight or obese, that’s almost one in two children. We are unfortunately number one in the Caribbean for childhood overweight and obesity. Already many of our children have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, or are suffering from the consequences of sugar overload such as poor dental and bone health, hyperactivity, short attention span, and poor academic performance,” he said.
“One of the most important contributors of excess calories for children is sweet drinks. We’re advocating therefore, for a ban on the sale and availability of sugar sweetened beverages in and around our schools in The Bahamas, and to promote the benefit of drinking water… as said before, about one in two of our children are overweight or obese, and that’s something that’s unsustainable for our economic development, as well as sustainable from a health perspective,” he continued.
Dr Swann added efforts to cut down on SSBs are just the first step of the campaign. He reported the group is pushing to promote “Water-full Wednesdays” in schools, where only water is drank on that day.
Dr Christine Chin, lecturer at UWI School of Clinical Medicine and Research, admitted childhood and adult obesity are “worldwide” problems, and said the issue has to be addressed globally so that nutritional information on packages are simplified.
Dr Chin added: “We’re focusing on sweetened drinks because they comprise 10-11 percent of a child’s diet in terms of calories. So it’s an easy fix. We can easily drop that and cut down on the weight that they gain. If you drink a 20 ounce bottle of sweet drink, that causes you to put on 25 pounds per year of weight,” she explained.
Dr Lashan McKenzie, paediatrician at Princess Margaret Hospital, also said: “We’re seeing children with Type 2 Diabetes, severe hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, (and) gallbladder disease. The non-communicable diseases in children are actually way more prevalent than we thought them to be, and most of these direct effects are from obesogenic environment.”
“So it’s not inherited, it’s not big-boned, the kids are fat and they’re suffering because of it. So I think the big thing is to stop it in childhood, so we can prevent all the complications – not only in childhood, but in adulthood as well,” she said.
Dr Catherine Conliffe, family medicine specialist at PMH, reported local research on the prevalence of elevated blood pressure in children, revealed one in 10 out of every child was either prehypertensive or hypertensive already.
HaLT is encouraging people to consider drinking more water, and is asking Bahamians to go online and sign the e-petition on the website: www.toomuchjunk.org.
Patricia Minnis, wife of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Dr Duane Sands, Minister of Health, and former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes and his wife, Lady Foulkes, have already signed the petition.
Dr Swann added: “We are also calling on heads of our government to attend the UN High Level Meeting for non communicable diseases in September 2018, (so) we can make a difference for the people of The Bahamas by joining together with other nations to combat the spirit of obesity … we invite all residents of The Bahamas to join the fight by signing the e-petition and spreading the word.”