Lystra Fletcher-Paul, FAO sub-regional coordinator for the Caribbean.

By Kenton X. Chance

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — A senior United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation official in the Caribbean says it is “absolutely” time to ban sugary drinks in Caribbean schools.
Lystra Fletcher-Paul, FAO sub-regional coordinator for the Caribbean told reporters this is not something that every country would accept.

“It is something that we propose. It is up to them to accept it. It depends on the context of the country,” she said on the sidelines of Caribbean Week of Agriculture, taking place here from Oct. 8-12.

“I think what we have to determine is what is best for our people. And sometimes it may not be necessarily something as punitive, but the way I like to look at it is educating your consumer,” she said.

Fletcher-Paul said parliamentary fronts could help drive political consensus on contentious issues that have long-term public health implications, such as the link between eating habits and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs)

She said parliamentary fronts work because they bring together the government and parliamentary opposition.

“And one of the areas is school feeding programmes because this is an area, it is a win-win for both sides. Even if there is a change in government, you can see both sides of the political divide taking this ball and run with it.”

Consumers also have a role to play in this regard, she further said.

“There is very much power in the buying power of the consumer.”

To illustrate, Fletcher-Paul pointed to the example of labels of different colours being used in Chile to identify products high in certain compounds known to lead to CNDCs.

“So in the case where the sugar tax is not palatable to the government, there is an alternative through the consumer and the empowerment of your consumers to say we have choice in what we purchase and if you do that, it also will influence the people who are selling these foods.”

The 15th CWA is co-organised by the Government of Barbados and the ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA).

The event is being held under the theme “Strengthening Agriculture for a Healthier Future in the Region”.

Fletcher-Paul said that if consumers are not buying a product, it would not be imported.

She said the recommendation to ban sugary drinks in school or increase the tax on them is influenced by the link between the incidences of chronic non-communicable diseases and the food that are consumed in the region.

“Food that are high in sugar and processed starches, there’s a clear link.”

Fletcher-Paul said that more importantly, what influences decision makers is the cost to the country.

“You are talking about amputations from diabetes,” she said noting that this is in addition to the high cost of caring for persons with CNCDs.

“When you put that stark reality to people, it makes you step back because the governments are saying, especially now where a lot of these Caribbean countries are in crisis, you can ill afford to spend money which is avoidable if you eat properly.”

She noted that some persons would complain that the cost of eating healthy food is too high, when compared to imported food.

“But you have to look at it from two points of view: one is, are you willing to pay a lower cost now and take a higher cost for your health care later?”

She added that cost of treating hypertension and diabetes is higher in the long run and takes away from one’s pension.

Fletcher-Paul said that the buy-in argument for the private sector is the fact that their children are involved, but said that the issue is too big a problem for government go alone, without the support of other sectors of the society.

“It is everybody’s responsibility… So you can’t do it alone.  It’s too big a problem; there are too many facets, too many dimensions for only governments to do it alone. And for me, it means it’s everybody’s business because our children’s health and our own health are at stake.”

3 replies on “FAO calls for ban on sugary drinks in schools”

  1. Here we go again putting the cart before the horse. In my humble opinion nutrition and healthy eating should be actively implemented into all school curriculum from kindergarten to high school and even as a specialization in the technical colleges. If people are taught at an early age the importance of appropriate healthy eating habits it grows with them and the tendency would be to follow them because they are embedded in the brain. Removing sugary and salty foods from the schools is just one small aspect of controlling chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension). Educating people, so that they understand the how’s and why’s is more significant because the resulting tendency will be to try to totally eliminate the consumption of these foods and to not understand that sugar is necessary to provide energy and that sodium (salt) is significant with potassium, calcium and magnesium to prevent water retention, maintain electrolyte balance and prevent dehydration. Also that having adequate amounts of water (fluids)daily will promote healthier lifestyles and better living with longer lifespan.

    I guess what I am saying is to apply common sense to the total nutrition picture not just using a part of it. The developed countries initiated such programs without much success because children are indeed testing at even higher rates for high glucose, high blood and high cholesterol levels and there are significant increased cases of diabetes and hypertension because of obesity. The answer; therefore, is to educate the masses about healthy eating in education classes about healthy eating and proper nutrition, proper portions sizes of foods and to encourage them to be actively involved in daily physical activities and exercises. We have to get out of our boxes, problem solve and initiate what we feel will work best for us not just blindly following the dictates of others. Educating the masses about healthy nutrition,and the inclusion of our local products and our produce will work better to our benefit, because these foods are in most cases more organic than imported stuff and they provide employment and income for the small farmers and agriculturists and are in supply readily thus reducing more cases of poverty.

  2. This is in reply to a post on Facebook where the comment was that the prices for food is high and most people cannot afford to buy healthy foods. I have my own personal sentiments about this!

    I am going to be an instigator now as to how the implications of affordability can change and save many lives. Beside the education of the masses on the importance of healthy living and proper nutrition, which would be a hard, long task, it would only be achieved if the masses are somehow and somewhat involved in the decision-making process. I say this because when people feel that they are consulted and involved and when they are part of the discussion or invited into the decision making process, they claim ownership. It is; therefore, much easier to get compliance because they have shared in the problem-solving processes and the exercises and they take ownership of them. So you put the ideas out there with goals and objectives and let the decisions making and taking the initiatives as to how they should be implemented come from them. Forming groups and cooperatives will help, but leadership is important and active listening become significant.

    Another idea that comes to mind is to give plant seeds, slips, or shoots to willing people and encourage them to have and plant small home gardens or designate areas in each community where small plots would be designated at very low rental cost to grow short season, rotational crops for home and family use. The thing though there has to be a sense of fair play, so that people who are willing do not become frustrated then discouraged because of inability to have access. I am now thinking that there would be less planters but more reapers, but it is still a good idea.

    Thirdly: Support your local farmers and agriculturist by utilizing the produce and products that ARE LOCAL OR IN THE CARIBBEAN REGION, by banning some imports. The government could consider giving yearly subsidies to small farmers and agriculturist to help defray the cost of producing these products and crops, so that the local people would find it more reasonable to purchase local products and produce and imply balancing what there are ready markets for and what is allotted to feed the citizens. It is costing much more to be involved in purchasing and importing processed foods especially when high exchange rates are involved, so get rid of the stigma that what is produced locally is not good enough. At least you know how they are produced and/or grown and that they are less likely to be contaminated with pesticides. You need to keep the resources in the island for local development of infrastructure, small businesses and small industries. This will also lessen the unemployment issues with the youths and those willing to work, if they could be convinced that agriculture, small businesses and small industries are significant and they could develop them into bigger and better endeavors and more problem solving of ideas.

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