Health expert wants higher taxes on unhealthy foods

A chronic disease expert is not backing down from her call for higher taxes on unhealthy foods.

Director of the Barbados-based Chronic Disease Research Centre, Dr Alafia Samuels said the measure would serve the dual purpose of raising funds that can be invested in the health care system and residents would also be dissuaded from eating the wrong foods.

“I am saying lets tax french fries because, just like tobacco, the french fries are going to give you a heart attack down the road and you may as well start saving money little by little. Government should start saving it for you so that you can pay for the heart attack when it comes,” said Dr Samuels, a former advisor to the WHO/PAHO on chronic diseases.

She pointed out that the Caribbean is leading the Americas in the non-communicable disease epidemic, with Trinidad and Tobago topping the region, followed by Belize, Cuba and Barbados.

In Barbados, eight of the 10 leading causes of deaths are non-communicable disease (NCD)-related, including heart attack, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure.

“Not only is this causing an obesity problem in the region but over time it is getting worse,” she said. “Men are catching up and it’s not only the adults, it’s also the children. We have a third of school children who are not getting enough physical activity. In the Caribbean, about 10 percent or more of children are already obese and it is increasing over time.”

Dr Samuels accused one of the largest fast food restaurants on the island of unfairly marketing itself to children, saying that contrary to international standards, it was having its name printed on material at learning institutions.

“You should not market to children in schools but we are doing it here and we are allowing it to happen. So in schools, in general, we’re not doing well and in Barbados, in particular, I have to call out [the company],”she said.

Dr Samuels, the deputy dean of Research and Postgraduate Studies in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, said it was particularly worrying that 40 percent of NDC deaths in the Caribbean occur in people younger than 70 years old.

“In North America it’s older people who are dying from heart attacks and strokes. In the Caribbean its 40-year-old people and 50-year-old people in the prime of life, in the workplace, who are dying from heart attacks and strokes,” she asserted.

“In the Caribbean we are saying there are too many people less than age 70 who are dying from chronic diseases when we know that a lot of those could be prevented or delayed. These premature deaths are mainly from heart attack, strokes, diabetes and cancer. High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for most of these diseases and the problem with high blood pressure is that they call it the silent killer.”

The lecture delivered at the Cave Hill campus by Dr Samuels was titled Accelerating the NCD Agenda – Towards a Better Caribbean, Stronger Together.

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