Region Urged To Work Together For Healthy Options In Schools
(Barbados Government Information Service Press Release) Barbados is “turning the corner” in the fight against sugar-sweetened beverages and unhealthy food options in schools.
This assessment has come from Chief Education Officer, Dr. Ramona Archer-Bradshaw, who said this was due to the consistent sensitisation and support of canteen concessionaires and vendors.
Speaking at the opening of a meeting held by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition and the Pan American Health Organization entitled Accelerating the Removal of Ultra-Processed Products from Caribbean Schools, at the Courtyard by Marriott this morning,
Dr. Archer-Bradshaw stressed that it would take a regional as well as multi-sectoral approach in order for countries to create healthier environments for children.
The meeting brought together 60 participants/stakeholders from 10 CARICOM countries representing government, civil society and academia.
“It is not enough for one or two countries to implement school nutrition policies and hope for the best. The [call to] action requires a concerted regional approach that commits to the removal of ultra-processed foods from schools and the provision of healthier and more nutritious meals,” she emphasised.
“…research published by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition revealed that mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean is the highest in the Americas; 40 per cent of NCD deaths occur prematurely in persons under 70, and are potentially preventable; in 12 CARICOM countries 10 to 25 per cent of adults have diabetes, while 20 to over 50 per cent suffer from high blood pressure, and more than 85 per cent of adults in CARICOM member states do not meet the recommended levels of fruit and vegetable intake.”
Overconsumption of these ultra-processed foods which were high in fat, sugar and salt were giving rise to a variety of health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, said the Chief Education Officer. She pointed out that if not addressed immediately, they could negatively impact the socio-economic success of the region.
Dr. Archer-Bradshaw shared some concerning statistics during her presentation. They include that on average within the region one child out of every three is overweight; and in every surveyed CARICOM member state, less than a third of school children aged 13 to 15, get the recommended level of physical activity.
Additionally, she disclosed that research published by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition revealed that mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean is the highest in the Americas; 40 per cent of NCD deaths occur prematurely in persons under 70, and are potentially preventable; in 12 CARICOM countries 10 to 25 per cent of adults have diabetes, while 20 to over 50 per cent suffer from high blood pressure, and more than 85 per cent of adults in CARICOM member states do not meet the recommended levels of fruit and vegetable intake.
The Chief Education Officer suggested that the region needed to work together and share best practices to “set children up for a lifetime of good health and wellbeing”.
She further noted that while it was good for vendors and canteen concessionaires to show support for nutrition policies, it was also necessary to raise awareness among teachers, parents and students about the detrimental effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, ultra-processed foods and lack of physical activity.
She added that parents needed to reinforce the importance of a balanced diet to children from a young age and this had to be supported through the schools’ curricula, both formal and informal.
Dr. Archer-Bradshaw also recommended that communities get involved by organising activities to help individuals make informed decisions when it came to food choices. She said collaboration with local farmers and fisherfolk was essential in promoting fresh, locally sourced ingredients required for meals in schools.
“Monitoring and evaluation must also play a pivotal role in our regional approach. Regular inspection and assessment of school meals programmes and the offerings of canteen concessionaires and vendors will help identify areas for improvement and ensure compliance with National School Nutrition Policies. It is essential to ensure accountability and transparency.
“A multi-sectoral approach to the removal of ultra-processed foods and sugar sweetened beverages in schools is a collective responsibility that requires the involvement of all stakeholders at all levels. By working together, we can create a healthy and sustainable environment for our children, promoting their well-being and providing a brighter future for generations to come,” stated the Chief Education Officer.