Public health is once again under the microscope in Barbados, with the lens being focused on the crippling burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the country’s health care system. According to data reported by Nation News, “an estimated 64 per cent of adult Barbadians are overweight and 31 per cent of children are obese or overweight”. If that is not worrying enough, NCDs account for 84 percent of total deaths in Barbados, according to World Health Organisation estimates. What is more, the rates of diabetes and diabetic-related amputations in Barbados are among the highest in the world. The net result is a reported $700 million a year health care budget, which is very unsustainable for a cash-strapped small island developing state which also has an aging population.
Not for the first time, public health advocates in Barbados have proposed levying a tax on foods with high fat and sugar contents as one policy measure to force dietary change among Barbadians. While it would appear that this suggestion has not met with the Barbados Government’s approval at this time, it does raise the question of what role could and should fiscal policy interventions play in promoting good health in Barbados.