Island life, one would imagine waves crashing at the beach, ukelele playing in the background and all other exotic notions of an island. Under the thick layer of utopia is an underlying problem that spreads from the Caribbean to as far as the Pacific. That problem is obesity!
In her morning address at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016, the Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Dr. Lystra Fletcher-Paul made a statement on how obesity is a serious issue in the region.
There is more to this problem than what meets the eyes. According to a report released by the World Health Organisation, non-communicable diseases (NCD) have an economic impact as Governments then have to increase the budget in one area; that being health and wellbeing.
According to the West Indian Medical journal the total economic cost of obesity in the Caribbean region stands at 68.5 billion USD, which is an alarming rate.
The issue is not just limited to the Caribbean region as thousands of miles Southwest, 6 Pacific countries are topping the Forbes list of ‘World’s Fattest Countries’. The first Caribbean country to enter the list is at the 11th spot behind the United States and Kiribati, standing at 71% is Dominica, followed by Barbados at 69.7%.
What can be done to tackle this issue?
Most of the solutions are what I like to call the ‘surface solutions’ it is like cutting the leaves of a tree where the tree is not the problem. We need to go down to the root of the problem.
One thing I can say for sure is increasing tax on fizzy drinks and unhealthy food does not help. In Fiji, the price of a 600ml fizzy drink of a particular brand has been increasing over the years and even despite that it doesn’t stop people from buying it. Fast-food chains also continue to increase prices of their meals, it is a matter of just few years ago that a large McValue meal costed $10, and now it costs up to $15.
Here is the flaw: increasing prices of these ‘unhealthy’ food items is not the solution, if we compare the price of a 600ml soda to a 350ml orange juice, the soda is still cheaper in Fiji.
The first step to combat this issue is to remove import taxes on fruits and vegetables, in addition to that, all fruits and vegetables should be put on price control. In Fiji certain medications are on price control meaning it has to be sold at a certain price only and no higher than that which is marked.
So instead of trimming the leaves, that is putting a price control on medications for diseases such as diabetes, authorities should place a price control on fruits and vegetables, that way more people will be encouraged to switch to a healthier lifestyle.
Similarly, farmers should be exempted from taxes and duty so they are able to sell their produce at a cheaper rate.
Urgent call for action
It is high time that Pacific and Caribbean Governments change the way they approach such issues.
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