The Barbados Advocate editorial of yesterday addressed a controversial position taken by Dr. Trevor Hassell regarding the addiction of our people to junk food especially the youth. What are the whys and wherefores we need to debate to save the health our people?
– Barbados Underground
As much as we understand the authenticity of his call and, indeed, largely sympathise with it, we fear that Sir Trevor Hassell is in for the fight of his life if he hopes, as he urged recently, for “an end to the promotion and advertising of junk foods in schools and an end to junk food sponsorship and support for school activities as well as family and sporting events in this country.” Sir Trevor made these comments at a recent symposium attended by senior students and teachers of the nation’s leading secondary schools. As reported in the Barbados Advocate of last Sunday under the banner headline “Ban Them”, he urged that the marketing and promotion in schools and the consumption of energy-dense nutrient-poor products, sugar sweetened beverages and fast food to school children interfere with the formation of healthy dietary habits. There ought not to be substantial public dissent to this view.
However, any purported ban of these products is likely to face stiff opposition on more fronts than one. The purveyors of these products will query their corporate right to commercial enterprise within our economic system; some citizens will bristle at this purported infringement of their natural civic right and autonomy to consume any product so long as its ingestion is not previously prohibited by law; and, doubtless, there will be some who will blame their current economic misfortune for their unhealthy mode of consumption, even though any credible empirical analysis is likely to reveal that fast food is more expensive than a healthy diet, certainly per unit of nutrition and provided one is prepared to take the time to locate these items.
This debate is by no means a new one. When, more than two years ago, New York City attempted to place limits on the sales of jumbo sugary sodas or sweet drinks as we would have it, this initiative was struck down by the state’s highest court on the ground that the state’s health officials had exceeded the scope of their regulatory authority and that its complexity and reach into the everyday lives of millions made it a fit subject for regulation by the city government itself.
Commenting on the ruling in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Amy Fairchild observed, ‘…the ban is not about attacking individual choice but rather about limiting damage. If we see supersize drinks not in terms of the individual’s freedom to be foolish but instead as a kind of pollution that is super-concentrated in impoverished neighbourhoods, limits on drink size become a far different regulatory measure”.
We concede too that Sir Trevor’s proposal will depend significantly on the political will of the governing administration to implement it at a policy level. Given its struggles on the economic front and the minor electoral advantage, if any at all, to be gained from the implementation of the guideline, this much ids doubtful.
It remains though, in our opinion, a veritable catch-22. It is almost inarguable that these eating habits contribute massively to the near pandemic of chronic non-communicable diseases in our nation, a pandemic that draws greatly on our scarce resources for healthcare. The equation would seem simple enough, but then the state regulation personal choice is not all easy.