Trinidad and Tobago has the highest rate of consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the region. The cost of treating with non-communicable diseases associated with this consumption is US$23 million.
This was revealed during the webinar The Bitter Side of Sugar Sweetened Beverage Consumption: Utilizing Fiscal Policy to address Sugar Sweetened Beverage Consumption in the Caribbean, hosted by the Health Economics Unit of the Centre for Health Economics, UWI St Augustine.
Prof Surujpaul Teelucksingh of the Department of Clinical Medical Sciences said obesity is an epidemic in TT.
He said obesity was measured using the body mass index (BMI), and more recently waist circumference. He said over 25 per cent of TT’s population was obese and another 30 per cent was overweight; 15 per cent of children were obese, with another 20 per cent being overweight.
Teelucksingh said the BMI scale did not consider different ethnicities. He said the BMI above which disease risk increases exponentially for an Indian woman is 22, while for a Caucasoid woman, it is 30, with risk for Chinese and black women falls between these two at 24 and 28 respectively. In men, a BMI of 22 for an Indian man is equivalent to a BMI of 30 for a Caucasoid man, with Chinese and black men falling at a BMI of 26.
“If we do not take ethnicity into account, we will miss the diagnosis. There has been a 300 per cent increase in childhood obesity between 2001 and 2011 in TT, while in the region, we are fifth in terms of obesity prevalence.”
Teelucksingh said the recommended daily allowance of sugar was 24 grammes (g), but a small soft drink contains 32g, a 20-ounce cola contains 70g, a fruit juice/drink contains 32.8g and a milkshake was 21-30g.
Argentina Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy (IECS) co-ordinator Dr Andrea Alcaraz said a study on the economic burden of disease of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) consumption in Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, and TT showed that people in TT consumed on average one SSB per day. She said in 2020, 49,718 occurrences of diseases such as diabetes (44,125), cardiac disease (1,974), cerebrovascular disease (1,116), musculoskeletal (651), renal (1,535), asthma (77) and others (244), as well as 386 deaths, could be attributed to SSB consumption.
She said TT’s health system spends US$23 million on care for diseases resulting from SSB consumption. The results of the study can be found at www.iecs.org.ar/sugar.
HEU Centre for Health Economics’ Dr Kimberly-Ann Gittens-Baynes said SSB consumption in TT is the highest in the world, with an average of 20 ounces per day, especially in men 20-39. She said TT had a death rate of 3.55 per cent as a percentage of the population, while the other countries had 0.01 per cent (Argentina), 0.01 per cent (Brazil), and 1.5 per cent (El Salvador).
Gittens-Baynes said estimated costs associated with SSB consumption were $156 billion.
TT NCD Alliance director Laura Roberts-Hall said governments need to provide an enabling environment through policy development, taxation, incentives, and mass education campaigns, to reduce the use of SSBs.
“We need a food manufacturing industry that recognises the importance of reformulation, with less sugar being added to beverages, smaller portion sizes, healthier beverage options and most importantly, front of package warning labels. Our population needs to change its behaviour and reduce the frequency and consumption of SSBs. We need to inform and empower the population to demand healthier and affordable food and beverages, with parents and individuals choosing healthier beverage options for their families and themselves.”
George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre director Prof Simon Anderson said a burden is placed on the economies of small island developing states when people die young, ie, when they are economically active. He said governments need to look at taxes as a way of reducing SSB consumption. He said many people switched to fruit drinks instead of sodas, not realising they were also SSBs.
Prof Emeritus Karl Theodore called for the formation of a national nutrition council which monitors what people eat, the impact on their health, and the impact on the economy.