The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados hosted a Public Lecture on Tuesday August 14th 2018 with the aim to educate the general public on the incidence of childhood obesity, the factors that can contribute to childhood obesity from birth through to adolescence, the dangers associated with the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and also highlight practical measure that can be implemented to improve the health of our children. The lecture was funded as part of a grant dedicated to childhood obesity prevention received from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition who received funding from the Caribbean Development Bank.
Raising awareness among the general public of the scale of the childhood obesity epidemic while directly correlating the contribution that SSBs make to this disease, was seen as key to gain support for policy initiatives to create healthier environments for our school children. The speakers were Dr Alison Bernard, President of the Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Foundation, Prof. Anne St. John, Consultant Paediatrician and Director of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados and Ms. Abigail Clarke, Registered Dietician.
Dr. Alison Bernard delivered an engaging presentation that highlighted how breast milk is the absolute best food for infants and that inappropriate breastfeeding practices can lead to premature deaths. She provided evidence to show that breastfeeding protects against NCDs in adulthood and is linked to lower childhood obesity rates. Dr Bernard presented information on a study that showed that only 19.7% of mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months in Barbados; the WHO target is 50%.
Prof. Anne St. John described how being overweight/obese is a rising issue among children and how malnutrition has changed from “underfeeding to overfeeding.” Prof. St John also highlighted how children with overweight parents have a higher chance of being overweight themselves. The altered perceptions of obesity were also showcased as experiments have shown that overweight people are 50 times more likely to misclassify themselves regarding their weight status and amount of physical activity they do. Prof. St John also referenced the financial burden brought on by NCDs, especially seen in developing countries.
Ms. Abigail Clarke identified the risk factors for childhood obesity as excessive screen time, low amount of physical activity, consumption of SSBs, genetics and large food portions. Ms. Clarke focused on the dangers associated with SSB consumption and stressing that SSBs not only contain sugar but the “cousins” of sugar which include: Lactose, Dextrose, Maltose, Corn syrup, Fructose, Agave and Molasses. Ms. Clarke identified that much of our consumption of added sugars comes from soft drinks with a 12 oz soda containing approximately 10 tsp of sugar, while the American Heart Association recommends that children should have no more than 6 tsp of added sugar daily.
The recommendations from the lecture included:
- Establishment of a workplace breastfeeding policy to facilitate breastfeeding exclusively for the baby’s first six months of life.
- Mandatory PE in schools (more than just half an hour per week)
- Identify cultural factors that affect eating habits and exercising
- Effectively educate schoolchildren on the importance of eating healthy and staying physically active
- Utilise the “Stoplight Analogy”
- Partner with the Ministry of Education and Health & Wellness to change and implement policies. We need to put pressure on governmental organizations for healthy school lunches and removal of SSB vending machines in schools.
- Create legislation against misleading labels (like fast food that claims to have zero trans-fat or have “healthy food options”) that are not truly healthy.
- Increase agricultural policy to have more health food available at a cheaper price. Healthy eating does not have to be expensive.
The take home comment from the lecture was:
Our approach to NCDs has failed. Let us stop with the lip service and demand action by making NCDs a priority in Barbados.
The HSFB plans to utilize the information gathered in this lecture to further advocate for policy change to ban the sale and promotion of SSBs in and around schools and conduct further public education sessions to garner support for this action.