Ministries struggling to tackle childhood obesity

Caring for ill Bahamians is an “incredible” cost to taxpayers, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday as he spoke on initiatives the government is considering to decrease childhood and adolescent obesity.

Sands said that along with the promotion of the availability of healthy food and the consideration of sin taxes for unhealthy foods and drinks, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education are working together to address the matter from a curriculum standpoint.

Dr. Esther De Gourville, Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization country representative for The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, said earlier this month that although the life expectancy of Bahamians has increased in recent years, they will spend over a decade of their life fighting chronic illness, due to the increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Referring to those findings, Sands said, “The cost to the public purse for caring for ill Bahamians is incredible.

“So, recognizing that we have been trying to fix problems as opposed to preventing problems, the emphasis now will go increasingly towards prevention strategies, healthier food availability. We have not completed the breadbasket initiative, and that’s a disappointing reality, but we’ve got to complete that process.

“But objectifying the approach to exercise and movement is a very important part of what we are seeking to do. It’s more than just talking about it. It is making it programmatically possible. It relates to green spaces. It relates to time in the education curriculum for exercise and all of these things have incredible implications because, you know, you are also trying to tackle an issue of literacy and numeracy and computer skills and so on and so forth. So where do you put it in the curriculum? How does it fit between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.? What do you sacrifice, if anything?

“So, these are not simple discussions that you just say do it and it happens.”

Sands said that while there are initiatives in place to prevent the sale of unhealthy food items on public campuses, vendors outside the schools pose some difficulty.

“The Ministry of Education has had a policy, but you know, there are some inconsistencies there,” he said.

“The challenge with the Ministry of Education is not what is happening on the campus per se, but what is happening 10 feet outside the gate.”

According to data from the World Population Review, The Bahamas has been ranked as the most obese country in the Caribbean.

The data, which was released in March, shows that The Bahamas ranks 21st in most obese countries in the world.

While the Ministry of Health has been recommending a sugary drink tax, Sands said that the government is also looking at the effects of other consumption items as well in the prevention of NCDs.

“They’re looking once again at cigarettes, alcohol, again the contributions of all these things we tend not to consider as it relates to morbidity and bad health outcomes,” he said.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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