When our own weakness for sweetness could kill us

 Fizzy and sugary beverages are tempting to many, refreshing to guzzle and easy on our pockets; but they come at a high price – be it obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer, soft drinks can wreak havoc on your health.

Time and time again, medical practitioners and experts have warned Barbadians to curb their desire for soft drinks and sugary juices and to replace them with healthier options such as water, coconut water or natural juices. And with good reason, when one considers the skyrocketing levels of non-communicable diseases in Barbados and the accompanying crippling health care costs.

Now there’s even more reason to ditch these drinks.

The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), a regional non-governmental organization, has released a study on sugar intake in the Caribbean that should drive every citizen to make healthier choices.

Data on Barbados revealed that sugar levels in locally made soft drinks are way too high and far exceed the entire daily maximum sugar intake for adults and children as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

HCC chairman Professor Sir Trevor Hassell has called on local manufacturers to urgently lower the amount of sugar in their products.

But, interestingly, beverage manufacturer Banks Holdings Limited revealed that its efforts to produce low calorie or no-sugar soft drinks and juices have not been received with any enthusiasm.

Chief Executive Officer Richard Cozier recently told reporters that Barbadians had rejected its offerings of such products, including diet Frutee, Pine Hill Light Delights, Pine Hill Sensations 100 per cent juice, and
flavoured waters.

“In most cases, the prices were the same and in some instances even lower than their full-sugar counterparts. The fact is, however, that consumers continue to opt for the standard offerings. As has been demonstrated, we are by no means averse to the prospect of supplying lower sugar offerings to consumers. On the contrary, we stand ready to assist and are open to working with key stakeholders in the production of flavourful lower sugar options, but not at the expense of removing the freedom of choice consumers now enjoy,” he said.

Government too has failed to dampen Barbadians’ thirst for soft drinks in particular.

A year after the imposition of a ten per cent tax on carbonated drinks in August 2015, Minister of Health John Boyce admitted that it had not changed consumption patterns.

Indeed, some argue that the tax is way too meagre and should be raised to at least 20 per cent or more, as recommended by the WHO, to have an impact.

Yet, tax or no tax, Barbadians appear bent on sipping their way to ill-health and eventually death, one sugary beverage at a time.

It has become clear that damning statistics on the epidemic of NCDs gripping this country, the alarming sudden deaths which caused panic in 2016, and the suffering of family members, friends and neighbours with diabetes, cancer or kidney disease, are still not enough to convince Barbadians to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

No doubt the Government has a critical role to play. It must provide effective and easy-to-understand information to encourage people to make healthier choices, and also ensure that nutritious beverages are readily available and not priced out of the reach of average citizens.

Moreover, decisive action must be taken to ensure children are not exposed to sugary beverages and snacks while at school.

Ultimately, though, the solution lies with each and every Barbadian. The older generation often repeated the proverb, “what sweet in goat mout’ is sour in he bam bam”. Enough said!

 Consuming soft drinks and juices high in sugar is bad for you. Take charge of your health. Your health is in your hands, not the Government, not the doctor, not the beverage manufacturers. Dumping bad habits is admittedly difficult but not impossible. Simply think of the value of life. If that doesn’t motivate us Barbadians, nothing will.

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