Eating levy

New proposal for Government health care financing

A concern that Barbadians are eating too many unhealthy foods  is fuelling calls for them to pay for their overindulgence.

During last night’s town hall meeting on the financing of health care, Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Dr Alafia Samuels was among those arguing strongly that Government should “tax the fat” .

Many participants also expressed the view that the combination of an aging population and rising obesity placed an added strain on the public health care system.

However, while getting old was unavoidable, the general sentiment was that non-communicable diseases were the result of unhealthy habits and therefore should be taxed.

Dr Alafia Samuels
Dr Alafia Samuels

“We need to put on a fat tax,” Samuels told the meeting, while warning that “all of this deep fat fried food that we are eating is leading to heart attacks and strokes.

“So if you eating it now, put down a little money to pay for the heart attack down the road,” she said.

Samuels also painted the scenario of a portly man, who had reportedly suffered a “sudden” heart attack.

However, “somebody said it wasn’t sudden, he worked on it for years,”  she said, arguing that self-indulgence over the years was a build up to the medical emergency.

“So while he is working on his heart attack, we need some of his money to put down to supplement your national health insurance scheme, so we can have more cash to pay the bills, because the bills are going to  be significant,” Dr Samuels told the gathering.

Last night’s meeting at Queen’s College was organized by the Ministry of Health.

Samuels, who was a panellist, also expressed support for the creation of a Government-run health insurance scheme, while saying that the proposed tax on fat would not only help to create an environment that promotes healthy living but take money from those who were deemed to be “high risk” to add to the financing pool from which payments are made.

She also complimented the  Freundel Stuart administration for its introduction last year of a ten per cent tax on sweet drinks, although she was of the opinion that the beverage levy should be higher.

“However, as we increase the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, we need to drop the tax on coconut water,” she suggested, adding, “I don’t know if we tax coconut water, but we need to find a way to subsidize it so that coconut water can become cheaper and the sugar-sweetened beverages can become more expensive.”

In terms of the health insurance proposal, which would be funded by contributions from all workers, the Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Epidemiology argued that everyone would benefit, since “sickness is not something that you can predict. . . [and] you don’t know at what age you are going to get the sickness and you don’t know how much it is going to cost.

“So you may feel that at age 20 you are just contributing in order to subsidize the 65-year-olds [but] you are also contributing in case you get something bad,” she said.

In support of her comments, one audience member said: “We’ve been trying to be politically correct and we only putting the fat tax on the sweet drinks. Put the fat tax on the people.

“It is not a case of rich versus poor, it is irresponsible versus responsible,” he said.

His advice to Government was: “Start talking about cost reduction, rather than acquiring more money,”. The vocal participant also called for more measures to encourage behavioural change among Barbadians, which he said would lift the current burden on the  state-run health system.

“If you shift the paradigm from cost reduction, you’ll find it is much easier to do that,” he added.

Chairman of the Diabetes Foundation Dr Oscar Jordan also stressed the need for a lifestyle change.

“We have to start with children, we have to promote healthy lifestyles . . . 30 per cent of the school children are overweight,” he told the gathering.

“And we need to introduce systems in the school where we ensure that adequate exercise and attention to proper meal-taking are instituted,” he added.

One audience member complained that too many Barbadians drive to work and sit in their offices all day.

“At some point in time we need to encourage our population to ride a little bit more, simple things like cycling to work . . . There are some of us who live very close to work who need to put down the car and cycle to work,” he argued, adding that adults should also be “encouraging our school children to ride to  school”.

He recommended a “United Kingdom programme” of giving financial incentives to doctors who were successful in getting their patients to lose weight.

However, he complained that there was a lot of “hypocrisy” in the system since “we speak about weight loss and healthy lifestyles, but some of the people who talk about weight loss and healthy lifestyles need to engage [and lead by example]”.

The meeting, chaired by Danny Gill, was the second of three  town halls planned to get public opinion on an appropriate financing scheme to meet Barbados’ ballooning health care costs of $732 million annually.

“How are we talking about financing health care through universal healthcare reform, when I have not seen any document which indicates that there has been a thorough review of the practices of the Ministry of Health?” asked Alan Corbin, who further questioned, “Where is there any figure that clearly outlines where the money is spent and what return we’ve got from it? Where is the analysis?”

In response, Gill, who is the Director of Planning in the Ministry of Health indicated that there was such a document. However, only members of the head table had copies, but Gill said members of the  public could obtain copies upon request.

There nonetheless appeared to be general agreement that costs were escalating, and the option of a pooled health insurance system that takes minimal contribution from all workers on the island seemed to be accepted as a reasonable idea.

But, this apparent acceptance of pooling also triggered discussion on penalties on those whose lifestyle habits encourage obesity, leading to avoidable illnesses that pressure the health care system. (GA)

10 Responses to Eating levy

  1. Sonia Sonee Walker
    Sonia Sonee Walker February 11, 2016 at 3:13 am

    Yes something has to be done admittedly. Educate not tax. Please don’t offer fat free or low fat options as they are far worse for a person the the original. And lets not fall into the belief that it only affects ‘big’ people. My dietician advise me that even slim persons need to worry. Margarine and sugar free drinks, low fat products have a lot to be sorry for. At the end of the day its about moderation and taking sufficient exercise.

  2. BaJan boy February 11, 2016 at 6:50 am

    I don’t think these presentations have been considering the difficulties being faced but bajans financially. It is fine for Dr. Samuels to say tax fat from her lofty towers,but has she considered they are bajans who have to choose between medication and food. Some with chronic non communicable diseases who cannot even afford medication. This Government has taken a number of drugs from the formulary and they are the ones that were more expensive. Some cannot afford the 300 $ to buy a pair of new show far less join her at the gym.
    I am familiar with a young man 30 years old who has been nursing a bad in step for the past three years and it will not heal because on type 1 diabetes and he has said to me it is simply because he can’t get a proper meal per day to help control his diabetes ,he is not working and no one will employ because he has to wear sandals.
    Barbadians pay enough taxes that should enable to enjoy a much better health system. The current one has deteriorated simply because of poor management and a Government that has never left the campaign mode after winning elections to consider the people who voted them to office.
    These town hall meetings are barely another political show as next year this same time nothing will change other than Government saying they had meetings to look at health care and plans are forth coming. PR PR PR and all talk while bajans continue to suffer.

  3. Alex Alleyne February 11, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Now how silly can someone be to be getting paid by TAX PAYERS and saying such foolishness and at a University, The big heads up on the hill should go and do some research on this issue and stop just receiving “free money”.

  4. Michael Turton February 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Just threw my degrees in the bin and disavowed any associations I had with universities.

  5. Carla February 11, 2016 at 10:20 am

    We can no longer come up with any worth while ideas it seems. So tax the fat, tax the disabled, tax dwarfs. How about working with the agriculture ministry to give tax rebates to persons cultivating and maintaining kitchen gardens that provide wholesome foods, instead of importing processed foods.

  6. Sanky February 11, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Some of these people who talk about diet and fat and healthy living should lead by example. I’ve seen some of them looking like a heart attack in the making and talking about how others should live “healthy lifestyles”.

    What eating levy? Educate people and stop talking foolishness. Check and see if the tax on sweet drinks has made a difference…..the answer based on my findings is a resounding “No”…..What are the alternatives to the sweet drink that you can buy on the go? In any case all these things are imported, so where do we start?

  7. jrsmith February 11, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Everything is taxed, taxed, the politicians /Government , is doing nothing to combat this OB problem, its simple , the Government, should have a lab test done, on drinks and on some foods , agree on set standard, which, should be indicated on the food or drink manufactures labelling.. but then this doesn’t allow any room for governments taxation..

    What is so far fetch , DR, Samuels , want to encourage bajans to use bicycles, this just shows how far she is from reality,living in her own world, this may be a ploy to reduce our bajan population hastily, this is the most dangerous habit to try in Barbados , even walking is dangerous..

    My take the end product of this , you cannot tell people what to eat or drink, hope would be ,people look at themselves and see what they are doing, changing they life style on the way and what they eat…

  8. Toni February 11, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    She should be the first to get tax

  9. Patty ann February 11, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    How insensitive and demoralizing can it get. Has it ever dawned on any of you bright scholars that are pushing to tax fat people that some people have conditions that make them fat,;some are fat because of poverty, and where do you draw the line on who is fat are you going to do a survey and write down names and send the tax bill. Are you also saying that only hard size persons were at that meeting to hear all yah all ranting and raving about fat people. Shame on all of you! Are you also going to tax the kids at school as well? I cant believe that the only suggestion coming out of a meeting is to tax the fat to make them slim. Smh…and yes this is my opinion and it does not have to meet the fancy amd likes of anyone eldse

  10. P Riviere February 15, 2016 at 1:37 am

    My concern may be the effect of the photographer’s lens; but isn’t this Dr. Samuels on the hefty, chubby side? Anyway, her suggestion highlights one of the weaknesses in medical training: no classes on nutrition. For the obese, it is about more than NOT ingesting certain foods! There is the problem with hormones: cortisol, lipitin, refined carbs and addiction!!Be informed before you tax!!!


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