By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
A SUGARY drinks ban at government healthcare facilities and public schools will come into effect on December 1, according to Health Minister Dr Duane Sands. “People are killing themselves,” Dr Sands said bluntly of the rationale behind the ban yesterday.
“We like to juice with nothing on. We like to eat sweet, savoury, fatty, juicy food. We like to drink liquor. We like to smoke. We like plenty things which we know ain’t good for us.”
Initially, government considered a sugary drinks tax, but this was trumped by a ban that had been planned for October 1. However, due to Hurricane Dorian’s devastation, the ministry made a decision to delay the restriction. With one in seven of the population suffering from diabetes among other non-communicable diseases, Dr Sands suggested the ban should have come much sooner as tell-tale signs of an unhealthy nation are everywhere.
While it may be easy to remove unhealthy drink options from the Ministry of Health and health care facilities, it won’t be as easy to regulate what children in schools drink, Dr Sands said.
This is because not only are these sugary drinks available elsewhere, they’ll be mere feet from public school campuses where private vendors offer a wide variety of sugary and salty food and drink options.
These vendors “prey” on young people to gain profits, the minister said.
“The (lunch vendors) are not the culprits because that’s already a part of their contract,” Dr Sands said. “The lunch vendors have an explicit specific menu that they are supposed to adhere to. They are not the problem.
“The culprits are the people sitting outside of the gate. The culprit is the Parent Teacher Association who brings doughnuts to sell to raise money and sodas to sell to raise money.
“If you go by any government school on any morning and you look and see what people are selling their response is: ‘We’re trying to make an honest living. We aren’t killing anyone or harming anyone. Hey, you need to deal with the people who shooting and stabbing and raping and killing.’
“(But) what they are doing is preying on young people.”
“This is a complicated issue,” he continued.
“But the things they sell are sweet, salty, savoury, sugary, because that is what people want and it’s feeding their addiction.
“So once we get that started now it’s impossible to stop.”
As a deterrent to student purchases, Dr Sands said these vendors may be forced to set up substantially further from school campuses.
However, he admitted that the problem will never completely stop.
“What we can do is we can ramp up the educational campaign as well as you make it harder. So if it’s 100 feet (away from the school now) maybe they have to be 200 feet away.
“You will never stop it because this is about trying to push back the tide but we have to push and even if we reduce consumption by five percent or seven percent we are going to save lives.”
The 2019 STEPS Survey revealed that 60 percent of Bahamians add two or more spoons of sugar to tea and coffee; 32 percent eat “sweets” three or more times per week; and 92 percent of Bahamians drink one to three cans of a sugary beverage every single day.
When the survey was released in August, Dr Sands said in a one-year span, the average Bahamian consumes 64 pounds of added or discretionary sugar.
It means that people in the Bahamas consumer more sugar than Americans who consume 52 pounds of sugar every year according to a 2015 US Department of Agriculture study
Dr Sands noted this “propensity for sweet” is not matched by the nation’s daily water intake nor fruit and vegetable intake.
Less than 50 percent of Bahamians drink the recommended eight or more glasses of water each day, “although water is readily accessible, relatively affordable and available as no-cost substitutes on many fast food menus,” the health minister noted.
Additionally, only 15 percent of the population eats the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.