Having read the articles on NCDs and a UWI report on Page 7 in the Sunday Express (September 12), I wish to suggest that the time has come for the Ministry of Health, the regional health authorities and civil-society organisations to become more directly involved in promoting healthy living.
While one reads about many individuals with co-morbidities succumbing to Covid-19, public- and private-sector organisations, community groups and faith-based bodies should recognise the need for vigorous health education programmes identifying risk factors for co-morbidities.
This can be done by increasing health promotion advertisements and conducting health-emphasis programmes to recognise international health awareness initiatives—for example, International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (2021), World Heart Day (September 29) and World Diabetes Day (November 14).
In addition, policy makers can develop guidelines, standards and policies to encourage healthy living. These measures may include taking steps to reduce the availability of unhealthy options on sale at public health institutions—for example, at cafeterias, restaurants, tuck shops and vending machines.
These measures at public health institutions may involve introducing a system to monitor compliance.
Other policy measures may be to attempt to begin reducing the advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks in the print and electronic media, and on highway billboards, aimed at children.
Further, consumers need to be more aware of products containing high levels of saturated fat, sodium and sugars. This issue can be addressed by strengthening the capacity of the Consumer Affairs Division and engaging in dialogue with manufacturers.
Consideration should be given to the development of a time frame for the introduction of Front of Package Warning Labels (FOPWL) on items high in saturated fat, sodium and sugars. The FOPWL initiative has been promoted by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (healthycaribbean.org).
Other initiatives of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition include the Healthy Caribbean School Project, with a rating system for schools in the region. Another project is Preventing Childhood Obesity in the Caribbean, which includes a Childhood Obesity Prevention Scorecard identifying 15 indicators to measure a country’s policy and legislative response.
Now is the time for vigorous action to combat NCDs and educate the public about the health complications associated with excessive consumption of sugary beverages.