THE EDITOR: I refer to a recent Newsday article by Paula Lindo, When sweetness is sickness, in which the writer shared the views of Dr Trevor Babwah, whose major point was that "the population needs a lifestyle change to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)."
Dr Babwah expressed his views about the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, and the unhealthy food consumed by many in the population.
While Dr Babwah's concerns are legitimate, the population is often blamed for its unhealthy eating habits. Although the doctor noted that "people needed to learn more about reading nutritional labels," the question is, who teaches consumers how to read food labels?
What is being done about the introduction of front-of-package warning labels on items high in sugars, sodium, and saturated fats? Who teaches consumers how to make healthier choices at the supermarket? How many faith-based and community-based organisations are involved consistently in providing health education?
How effective are the health promotion programmes of the Ministry of Health and regional health authorities?
While it is important for individuals to take responsibility for their health, I think there should be more support, encouragement, education, and policy initiatives aimed at enabling people to make a lifestyle change.
The time has come for the State to articulate a philosophy of wellness for the nation which would have implications for the development of comprehensive national nutritional standards and guidelines.
Such an approach should result in a reduction in the marketing of unhealthy food items aimed at children, the elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages in vending machines in government buildings, including public health institutions, and limiting tobacco use in situations where members of the public are exposed to second-hand smoke.
What are the plans of the Ministry of Health for World No Tobacco Day in May?
Moreover since 2021 is the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, the State should be engaged in a vigorous programme promoting the health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, and at the same time consider measures to make fruit and vegetables more affordable to the general population.
Although the population is often blamed for making unhealthy choices, the time has come for the State to develop and implement policies that may enable people to find it easier to make the lifestyle changes that Dr Babwah thinks are necessary to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases.