Non-communicable diseases and the business sector

Participants take part in a warm-up exercise for the Diabetes Association of TT's walk at Queen's Park Savannah in November 2017. File photo - CHOLAI
Participants take part in a warm-up exercise for the Diabetes Association of TT's walk at Queen's Park Savannah in November 2017. File photo - CHOLAI

People of all different demographics and geographical regions are affected by NCDs. In Caribbean countries, heart disease accounted for the highest percentage of deaths (13 per cent to 25 per cent), followed by cancer (eight per cent to 25 per cent), diabetes (four per cent to 21 per cent), and cerebrovascular disease (one per cent to 13 per cent). Compared to other sub-regions of the Americas, the Caribbean community has the highest probability of persons dying prematurely (between the ages of 30 and 70 years) from NCDs.

In 2007, Caricom identified four shared risk factors for NCDs to be addressed within the region: tobacco use; harmful use of alcohol; unhealthy diet containing the over consumption of salts, sugar and trans-fatty acids; and physical inactivity.

In July 2018, Caricom heads of governments endorsed the following six priorities to underpin the policy interventions towards addressing NCDS:

Establishing and maintaining a smoke-free status for the region

Implementing policies geared to preventing childhood obesity

Including for health-promoting school environments and front of package (FOP) labelling

Promoting the elimination of cancer of the cervix

Support for the mitigation of post-disaster vulnerabilities related to NCDs in particular: nutrition, treatment and care, increasing international financing and technical support; and

Strengthening accountability through national coordinating mechanisms.

The local private sector has been collaborating with the government in its effort to help consumers make healthier choices. The business community has been actively engaged in developing strategies to mitigate the prevalence of NCDs within the region. Members of the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce have begun to engage both government and non-state stakeholders to develop and to implement policies and actions to alleviate the impact of harmful consumption of sugar, salts, trans-fat, alcohol and tobacco. In making this commitment, the private sector acknowledges that the success of such efforts will be contingent on full participation of all producers and particularly of those entities involved in the retailing of such products and operators who interface directly with the consumer.

For example, Coca Cola’s Caribbean Bottlers has “reduced sugar in a number of their beverages and has been offering many low and no-sugar products to consumers. Forty five per cent of their total product portfolio consists of no to low sugar content.” Similarly, Nestlé has “refined its internal strategies, offering 100 per cent juices, with no added sugar and in some cases including vegetable juices, to encourage consumers to transition to healthier beverages without added sugar over time.”

Further, the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association (WIRSPA) endorses interventions recommended by the World Health Organization, viz: public regulation of availability and advertising; strong drink-driving laws; enforcement of minimum age for purchase and consumption; sponsorship practices that restrict promotion to underage persons; improving consumer information about the products they consume, including alcohol harms; support for treatment and care, and for counselling services. The rum industry announced in mid-2019 a major initiative to upgrade labels in domestic and regional markets, to make them more easy-to-read and to improve consumer information

Conclusively, other companies within the private sector have been sensitising the population through educational platforms and information dissemination. Companies have made pledges such as not advertising to children, supporting the use of front of package labelling which should be developed in close consultation with the industry, reducing sugar, trans fat and sodium levels, hosting marathons, and evolving recipes in its manufacturing process to promote a healthful lifestyle.

The development of holistic approached to reducing non-communicable diseases will require ongoing dialogue and collaboration among the state, business, health practitioners and citizen groups. With our particular economic and social vulnerabilities, it is all the more important to ensure that our population is as healthy as possible. With a commitment to being good corporate citizens, the members of the TT Chamber continue to support the efforts to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases in Trinidad and Tobago.

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"Non-communicable diseases and the business sector"

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