EDITORIAL:Staying healthy


Recently The Barbados Advocate carried an article on the front page in which the new President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, Dr. P. Abdon DaSilva, suggested that Government not impose the proposed two per cent National Social Responsibility Levy on healthy foods, and that it consider reducing the taxes currently charged on those foods as well.
It is an idea that deserves our wholehearted support, as we recognise that this country faces a serious uphill battle as it relates to reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases. Certainly if healthy foods were priced economically, persons may be more inclined to purchase and eat them.. But the reality that Barbadians currently face, as Dr. DaSilva rightly pointed out, is that food containing less sugar and salt are priced higher than those that are loaded with those ingredients, making it sometimes impossible for persons to eat healthy. If then a levy is imposed on the already high price of such products, are we not in essence taxing the products out of the reach of the consumer and creating a situation where persons because they are trying to save money, buy the cheaper less nutritious version, thereby putting their health at risk?
The question then to be asked is whether we can afford for this to happen, particularly in light of the fact that locally there are already high incidences of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease causing healthcare costs to skyrocket and claiming the lives of many persons. It is no badge of honour that we are dubbed the ‘amputation capital of the world’ greatly because of diabetes, or that we record many as 11 heart attacks and 49 strokes each month. If we are to stem the rise of these statistics then urgent action is needed to ensure that persons lead healthy lives, and food plays a major role in that regard. 
It would not be a far stretch of the imagination for Government to lower the tax on healthy food options, considering the decision taken last year to introduce a new excise tax at a rate of 10 percent on imported and locally produced sweetened beverages to encourage persons to cut down on their sugar consumption. It has been about one year now since that tax was imposed, but there is no evidence to say the tax has netted the more than $10 million it was expected to, or that it has changed consumer behaviour. 
We are aware that a review is expected in another year’s time, but feel that it would be wise to do conduct it now, to see if indeed Barbadians are being discouraged from buying sweetened drinks, or if by chance it collected more money, because persons do not mind paying extra to quench their thirst. If consumers’ behaviours are shifting, then Government could consider in the future putting a health-related tax on other less nutritious items such cookies, potato chips, chocolates and the like, as has been done in other jurisdictions.
But given that we are already so heavily taxed, this is perhaps a decision that will not be popular. Needless to say though, it should not be dismissed if the benefits to the public outweigh the pressure it may put on some pockets, and a balance can be struck by reducing the taxes on nutritious options. Together these measures could positively impact the Government’s projected revenue from VAT, while helping to keep people healthy.
On another note, we reiterate the importance of food manufacturers and fast food restaurants being mandated to include nutrition facts not only on pre-packaged food, but in store or on their websites in respect of food establishments, allowing persons to make informed decisions about their consumption choices.

Barbados Advocate

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