Tackling NCDs starts with change in behaviour

Moderation and enhanced communication will be two essential elements required to tackle the “crisis” of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Barbados.

That’s according to Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley who said that tackling NCDs had to start with behavioral change, and that could only be done by making people understand the severe consequences of NCDs.

“We have become accustomed to the culture of content and we have a population that has not quite understood that when we say they are playing with fire with respect to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease; they do not quite get it.

Mottley was delivering the feature address at the start of a three-day Ministerial conference on Non-Communicable Diseases & Mental Health at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre which was attended by Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Ghebreysus, and the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr Jarbas Barbosa da Silva.

The Prime Minister said that: “Success with NCDs [is] the transformation of behavior in each one of our citizens …the bottom line is we need to speak a different language to be successful.”

She emphasised that should be done by way of explaining “choice and consequence” to the public in a language they understood.

As such, she noted that being able to know the calorie counts of food locals consume was important in the fight against NCDs.

“I could go on the internet and find the calorie count of almost every food we eat at fast-food restaurants internationally, but where do I find the calorie count for Breadfruit cou-cou, oil down, or roti?”

“The reality is everything can be done in moderation and with balance and the link between NCDs and mental health, perhaps send that message close.

But if we try too hard to go one way, we lose the delicate balance,” she added.

Mottley also made an appeal to all Small Island Developing States (SIDs) to speak with one voice in calling for food manufacturers to have front of  packaging warning labels, so people know what exactly they are consuming.

“Our orders are minuscule. Our orders cannot get them [food manufacturers] to change their behavior. Barbados alone and CARICOM alone will not bring about frontal packaging labels, but Small Island Developing States – 46 states across 193 states globally – have the power of voice …” she stressed.

The Prime Minister defended the government’s approaches to addressing NCDs and promoting healthy eating, despite facing criticism. She mentioned the implementation of a sugar tax and a school nutrition policy, both of which encountered opposition, but were deemed necessary for the greater good.

“We increased the sugar tax when we came in and all cried and all made noise. We introduced a school nutrition policy which has also led to a national uproar in some quarters, but the reality is people know that deep down is the right thing to do for the right reasons.”

She also disclosed that her administration had committed to the removal of trans-fats by December 2024. (AL)