EDITORIAL: Creating a healthier food culture

According to The Independent, a British online newspaper, Public Health England (PHE), an executive agency sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom, is demanding a “calorie-cap” on supermarket ready meals and fast food dishes.

The suggested ruling, which may come into effect in March, would limit breakfasts to 400 calories and lunches and dinners to 600 each and this plan, it has been noted, is intended to combat rising levels of obesity in the UK, as figures show that more than half of the British population are overweight or obese (65 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women).

This measure may seem a little drastic, but here in Barbados, we could do with a “calorie cap” on fast food dishes as well. With so many fast food restaurants popping up all over Barbados and with increasing reports that numerous Barbadians are not only overweight, but obese as well and a significant number of our children are following suit, Government should move to ensure healthier dishes are placed on menus at these restaurants.

Government’s move in the past to place a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, whilst commendable, is simply not enough. We have too many fast food restaurants openly marketing unhealthy foods, even to children and adolescents; and with the constant rise in chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the burden being placed on our healthcare system, Government must do its part and take a page from the book of international countries that have sought to do right by its citizens.

Look at Chile for example, where the New York Times reports that this country is trying to remake the country’s food culture by waging a war on unhealthy foods with its various food laws, which speak to marketing restrictions, mandatory packaging redesigns and labelling rules, aimed at transforming eating habits. Reports are that the food laws also prohibit the sale of junk food in Chilean schools and it has forced multinational companies to look at how they use certain icons and trinkets in sugary cereals and other products to lure young consumers.

Certainly, we don’t need to copy these countries who have had some measure of success in changing their “food culture” to a T, but we can certainly learn from them and see what we can adopt or tweak to make it relevant to our small rock.

That said, Barbadians need to take better care of themselves and their health and pay close attention to their diets. We all know that Barbadians like tasty meals. Tasty meals are what draws many a tourist to Barbados to try out our cuisine, our local dishes. No one wants to eat bland, unappetising meals. However, we can find ways to make healthier, better tasting dishes that will do our bodies good.

We really need to stop paying lip service to this whole issue of eating healthy and recognise that by taking small steps to feed the body better, we can begin to see improved results, even at the societal level, when it comes to this whole issue of chronic non-communicable diseases. Couple this with some well-planned physical activity and we could truly be onto something – a healthier way of life.

Barbados Advocate

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