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Impose higher taxes on unhealthy food

Published: 
Saturday, October 7, 2017
President’s wife on childhood obesity

T&T should strive for food labelling legislation and allow tax breaks on healthy food imports, with higher taxes placed on the unhealthier options, says Reema Carmona, wife of President Anthony Carmona.

"At some point, in fighting to save people from themselves, it's become necessary to legislate what we eat," she said at a recent United Nations conference of regional and international experts in New York.

"We simply cannot depend on the goodwill of individuals and companies alone to get this health revolution off the ground."

She paid tribute to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and former UWI chancellor, Sir George Alleyne for their work in health issues.

According to a statement from President's House, Mrs Carmona complimented Deyalsingh for his support in having heavy sugar content drinks removed from schools’ cafeterias and for the presentation of T&T's National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

She thanked Sir George for his stewardship as UWI Chancellor and as a strong supporter of Caribbean health associations.

Mrs Carmona said childhood obesity is exacerbated by "an obsessive 'couch potato' environment of playing video games and watching television for long hours."

"The amount of time spent watching television or the presence of a television in a child's bedroom is directly related to the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents. These effects may persist into adulthood. Parents have a responsibility to monitor this type of adverse sedentary existence."

Saying social media and television have impacted traditional values of eating local or eating ‘green’, she added, "It may well be a good thing for advertisements on healthy lifestyles and cuisine to be strategically placed during prime television shows."

"We need to reconsider our serving portions in restaurants and even on plates in our own kitchens — it's better to reduce the price and servings rather than increase the price and increase the servings.”

She pleaded, “We need to tell the world at large about the deleterious effects of salt and sugar as we proactively address childhood obesity. For the last four years, I've called for a culinary revolution in the kitchens of my country and region to foster wider consumption of fruits and vegetables."

"I've been knocking on the corporate conscience of private enterprises to cut the sugar content in sodas and I've advocated for sugarless drinks and natural juices in T&T's school cafeterias."

"It all finally came to pass when, a few weeks ago, just before the start of the new school term in September, the Ministry of Education banned sodas from all T&T school cafeterias. One of our largest soda manufacturers, advertised months ago, that it's cutting its sugar content by 40 per cent."

Mrs Carmona suggested every child receive a School Health Certificate, to be made aware of their health issues, in order to correct it.

She said she had noted an emergence of numerous ‘healthy supermarkets’ and ‘green’ eateries. "So given that childhood obesity is a development time-bomb, this notion that we only get sick when we get old, clearly has no basis," she said.