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Manufacturing good health

Participants at today’s workshop.

A number of this island’s manufacturers are aware of the current local health crisis as it relates to non-communicable diseases and are making changes to products in an effort to produce healthier foods; but the NCD Commission is calling for more to be done.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand, made this appeal today at a meeting hosted by the commission for local manufacturers, at the headquarters of the Pan-American Health Organisation, in Dayrells Road.

“The Ministry of Health has noted your efforts to reduce salt, sugar and fats. And, in most instances, you have done so on your own volition, indicating your commitment to better nutrition among Barbadians. Many in the manufacturing industry have invested much in research and development as a method of using evidence-based strategies to provide more wholesome choices.

“I commend you for this effort, however, we must recognise that much more needs to be done and I encourage you to join the Ministry of Health in improving the nutritional content in foods offered to the consuming public,” Ferdinand added.

The senior health official told the gathering that some five decades ago protein-energy malnutrition (a form of malnutrition where there is inadequate protein intake) was a major cause of sickness and premature death in children. Pointing out that the epidemic of obesity, in children and adults, was cause for much concern, she said 50,000 Barbadians now had hypertension or high blood pressure and the main contributor to those illnesses was salt. The prediction is that this number will rise to 75,000 by 2025.

She added: “Statistics show that 56 per cent of males and 67 per cent of females are either overweight or obese and this represents a 10 to 15 per cent increase over the last 20 years. Eighty per cent of our adult population has diabetes mellitus, and 23 per cent are hypertensive. Moreover, it is predicted by the World Health Organisation, that 50 per cent of chronic disease will occur in individuals 65 years old or less.”

In his presentation, Chairman of the National Agricultural Commission, Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, suggested that a dietary transition had taken place in Barbados which threatened our current health and nutrition status. He stressed that it was time for Barbadians to re-evaluate “where we are and where we were heading”.

“If we do not address this question as a nation we will continue to spend $653 million dollars to import food and $485 million on health care — that accounts for $1.1 billion of our income…

“One of the most compelling reasons therefore, for the repositioning and reforming of the agricultural sector in Barbados is to help the country to reduce the incidence of these NCDs which, in our view, has reached epidemic proportions,” he stated.

Pointing to the recently held United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs last September, he stated that leaders had concluded that one of the risk factors that contributed to the incidence of NCDs, was unbalanced processed foods and ready to serve meals, rich in trans fats, saturated fats, salt and sugar.

He asked: “So what are we doing in our country? We are importing foods high in these elements, literally killing ourselves and then importing pills from abroad to take care of our problem. And the question is, are we smart? All of us in this country need to ask ourselves, are we on the right path? Are we giving our children the best option we can give them? Are we producing productive individuals to drive this country’s economy and the society into the 21st century?”

The manufacturers shared strategies they were currently using and plans that were in train to improve their products and pledged to work with the commission and the health and agriculture ministries. They also heard a presentation from food technologist Nadine Benn-Greaves and shared their challenges, calling for an intensified focus on research and development and standards and a gradual shift in food culture through public education and the marketing of healthier choices.

The consultation saw representation from companies, including West India Biscuit Company Limited, Roberts Manufacturing Company Limited, Pine Hill, HIPAC Limited and Purity Bakeries.

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