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Jan 25, 2019

A Regional Initiative to Tackle Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a challenge throughout the region so policymakers are engaging the private sector to adopt standards that will make consumers more aware of making healthy choices when buying food. It will take front of package labelling to another level to include foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, sodium and other properties that contribute to obesity. In Belize City today, the Bureau of Standards met with stakeholders to discuss the regional standard. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Not everybody reads a food label when they go to the grocery store. They simply pick up products without really checking the nutrition label that indicates cholesterol and fats or the sodium and vitamin contents. Across the world, some countries have been making a conscious effort, even amending legislation, for consumers to make healthier decisions. In the Caribbean, some island states have began the process of transitioning to front of package labelling of goods to indicate whether they are healthy or high risk. Locally, the initiative is being spearheaded by the Belize Bureau of Standards and in a round of consultation today, private sector stakeholders, including importers, were brought into the dialogue.


Jose Trejo

Jose Trejo, Director, Belize Bureau of Standards

“We are actually presenting to the business sector, a draft CARICOM regional standard that is actually being worked on right now. This standard is labelling standards for pre-packaged foods, but one of the important things about this standard is that it has been a recent addition to the work that we have been doing on front of package labelling. The front of package labelling I think will be a little more challenging in terms of its implementation at the regional level simply because it will be a requirement once the standard is passed at the regional level and approved. It will require then for packaging of food to then identify, to specifically label and what have you. That would be a specific requirement of the labelling.”


Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services

“Not everybody reads a food label. So once you start doing for example, traffic signals and you put a red dot on a product then you know without reading the label that it is something that you are not going to consume. And then the red dot is going to say this has a high sodium content, this is high sugar content; this has a high total carbohydrate content. So it makes it easier for persons.”


This has been discussed at the Caribbean Regional Public Health Agency and at COMSICA meetings as to the direction the region will take because it has health implications.  Other countries, like Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico are already practicing front of package labelling to help with lowering non-communicable diseases. Doctor Marvin Manzanero says that the Ministry of Health welcomes the initiative because it is seen as an investment in health.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“This becomes a prevention strategy. I mean if you are doing food labelling that’s telling someone that it is an unhealthy food choice, then it becomes a prevention measure. I mean it has a trickling effect because obesity has high rates in Belize. Hypertension, diabetes; those are associated with what we eat and physical inactivity. But ninety percent of it may be associated with what we consume. So we are pushing for the front of package labelling because it is an investment in health down the road. You are going to have implications, you’re gonna have savings if you will down the road in terms of health.”


Director of the Belize Bureau of Standards, Jose Trejo, says that the timeline for the final draft of the standard is 2020. While the national consultations are underway, there will be education campaigns to help with the transition, which is needed for Belize and the region to make healthier choices.


Jose Trejo

“It’s not as easy as one would want to think because we are talking about two hundred and fifty-one million dollars worth of foods that we import; which is about fourteen percent of our total import bill. I think the figure is one point eight billion [dollars] for 2018. So it is not going to be an easy thing for us to do, but this is why we are looking at other countries and see how they implement it and what are some of the schemes that they put in place to ensure that we put in a system that works, that is not burdensome to trade facilitation. The idea is not to…we are not here—the Ministry of Health or the Bureau of Standards—to impede trade. Our role is to facilitate trade.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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