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Dec 12, 2019

Healthy Living looks at the serious problem of obesity among children

Obesity is listed as a chronic illness. Genetics, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle all contribute to being overweight and obese. But obesity can also lead to common diseases: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer. Some have heard the warnings and are responding by living a healthier lifestyle. But, what about our children? In tonight’s healthy living, we dive into the issue of childhood obesity and what we are doing to fight it.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

It has been a growing health concern for over a decade,  one that across the world has become a priority. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, and if you have, it often feels impolite to say. But the facts – and statistics are clear – we have a problem with obesity. Even more, concerning is that it has started to affect our children.


“Being overweight it affects me in lotta ways.”


Laura Longsworth, House Speaker & Director, Healthy Caribbean Coalition

“We are getting sicker at a much younger age. Then it tells you why we need to focus on childhood obesity.”


Dr. Cecilio Eck, Paediatrician

“Heart disease, strokes, hypertension, diabetes, all of it is waiting down the road, and it’s all preventable.”


Avoiding a future population burdened by chronic illnesses and their complications is what has driven the global attention on childhood obesity.


Dr. Jorge Polanco

Dr. Jorge Polanco, Focal Point NCD, PAHO Belize

“It has a become a health priority for all the countries. Over the last decade, there has been multiple and consecutive meetings at the World Health Assembly where the NCD’s including the Obesity in Children is one the agenda on the forefront”


This includes health authorities in Belize. Dr. Jorge Polanco is the Non-Communicable Disease Focal Point for the Pan American Health Authority in Belize.


Dr. Jorge Polanco

“Recently there have been some studies where obesity in children, whereby they have found that the higher the consumption of ultra-processed food pre-age children up to age eight, it is linked directly with cardiovascular diseases in them as young adults. So the evidence is there. We can classify two fundamental contributing factors, the type of diet the type of food, which is unhealthy food. Food loaded with excess sugars, excess salt, excess unhealthy fats, and the issue of a significant rate of being physically inactive.”


According to pediatrician Dr. Cecilio Eck, he already sees the effects of poor diet and inactivity in the healthcare system.


Dr. Cecilio Eck

Dr. Cecilio Eck

“We get referrals to the public hospital with obese kids with early-onset diabetes and, again, preventable. We’re talking Type 2 diabetes early onset. The earliest I’ve seen in Belize an 8/9-year-old.”


Recent studies have shown that in Belize – like the Caribbean – one in every three children between the ages five to nineteen years are either overweight or obese. Even more alarming is that in Belize, sixty-seven percent of children between ages thirteen to fifteen reported that they drink one or more carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages every day in the last thirty days at the time of the study. Keep in mind that just one serving of a sugar-sweetened drink already exceeds the maximum sugar intake for children. Then, seventy-nine of children between the ages of eleven to seventeen years reported less than sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. These numbers are similar in countries around the world, and so preventative policies and legislations have come into effect.


Dr. Jorge Polanco

“There is a lot experience globally, and the first one that comes to mind is the issue of taxes. On unhealthy food and drinks. There is evidence. Documented research where the consumption of unhealthy food decrease in proportion to the increase in taxes. So that is been proven.”


Polanco cites the example of Mexico, where since the introduction of additional taxes to sugar-sweetened beverages five years ago, they have recorded a decrease in consumption of sweetened drinks and an increase in water consumption.

In September 2019, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, the HCC, a network of civil societies from across the region, issued a call for urgent action to accelerate nutrition policies for the creation of healthy environments for Caribbean children. Speaker of the House, Madam Laura Tucker Longsworth, is a director for the HCC. The urgent call focuses on three areas: Mandatory Front Package Labelling, Banning the Sale of Sweet Beverages in school settings, and the Taxation of Sweet Beverages.


Laura Longsworth

Laura Longsworth

“Belize has not been able to tackle any of these? Well, yes and no. Not the taxation we have not looked at taxation. Taxation is going to be a highly political issue, and I think that the politicians will probably tackle that at the last thing they tackle. What we have begun to work on is the front labelling.”


Dr. Jorge Polanco [FILE: Jan 25, 2019]

“It is an initiative led by the Ministry of Health to begin to label the food in such a way that the consumers would be informed as to what food is unhealthy and what food is unhealthy.”


Laura Longsworth

“I have to say that the Ministry of Health recently as a policy looked at banning sugar-sweetened drinks in the schools I have to say that we have been working very closely with the Belize Cancer Society, the Belize Parliamentary Front has been working closely with the ministry of education, and we are all on the same page.”


“Some schools have taken the initiative to encourage the parent to send their children to school with a healthier snack. But how do you curb the appetite for healthy food when it is available on every curb?”


Laura Longsworth

“It comes with a lot of community involvement. If you have a vendor around the school, and we have looked at those things at the cancer society. We’ve even had training with our vendors, but you have vendors around the school; it’s not about saying you can’t make money. It is about telling you this is what we are doing. You need to make the switch. So the children can still buy their snacks from you.”

Dr. Jorge Polanco

“One of the global strategies is to look at leadership is leadership. What that means is that at the highest level, there should be that will to move in this direction. We have the experiences of many prime ministers in the Caribbean who have stepped forward in increasing taxes in banning sugar-sweetened beverages in school. So it is nothing new. I must say giving credit to the ministry of education, that has been a topic at every forum, how to make spaces and enable the schools to have healthy food and reduce the exposure to unhealthy food. But I must repeat there is a need for policy support. I will mention Costa Rica as an example. They are not allowed to have unhealthy food street vendors, not even the signs or billboards around a radius of two blocks around any private or public school. That is the law.”


While the conversations continue about banning unhealthy food and drinks in and around schools, the front labeling initiative progresses. And despite the global evidence, the taxation of sweet beverages remains on the back burner. The consensus is that whether through public awareness, policies, or legislation, we as a nation must prioritize the fight against childhood obesity.


Laura Longsworth

“We did not start 15 years ago when we should have, and now we are paying the price. We have to start now. We’ll save their lives if we start now.”

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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