Round Table with Oscar
September 27, 2011
Hogwash part 3

Believe it or not, it is our food that is threatening our lives and our wellness. Other things also threaten us, but don’t take your eyes off the food we eat. If we look at overweight (and obesity) among our pre-school children worldwide, the average rate is 3.3 %, but in Barbados it was 3.9% and in Jamaica it was 6%. Fifty years ago, many of our children were thin.{{more}} We used words like ‘pohpo’ and ‘marga’ to describe these nutritional illnesses; today, overweight is the food + nutrition condition that we have to fight. Almost half of the adult Caribbean population is overweight (with a body mass index Ž 25), and 25% of our women are obese (BMI Ž 30). Obesity has a way of bringing on type 2 diabetes and the food we consume is connected to obesity, yes, food is a threat to our wellness as we go through the new disease patterns that confront us in our epidemiological transition.


According to information from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN in 2002, the calories or energy foods on offer for our diets increased rapidly from the 1970’s. Our region gets calories from sugars and fats and there is more than 160% of fats per person available and 2,505 sugars within reach. Take a look at what we and our children ate and drank yesterday. Look, if you can, (because sometimes the nutrition facts on our food packets are printed small or printed in unreadable colours); yes, look at the calories on the food items. Most of our soft drinks boast of having more than 100 calories per serving, some approach 200! When we take in more food energy calories than we need, the result is obesity. A working person needs about 2,250, a sedentary or inactive person will do with a supply of 2,000 calories or less a day. One chart that I saw recently claimed that 100 extra calories per day or 700 extra calories per week can result in added body fat of 3 ounces per week or 10lb per year, easy as that. That one extra sweet drink or extra handful of cookies daily will stretch the waistline significantly.

Do you notice how sweet and enticing HOGWASH foods taste? Yes Hogwash food is a temptation, almost irresistible. There are a couple of research findings we should look at. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition No. 79, in the article on Poverty and Obesity, the writer points out that Energy dense diets are usually the cheapest choices for people and lower cost is what makes consumers go for a product especially in these times. If it costs less, it tastes good and it is fairly ready to use, it will sell, and so these food items which are loaded with calories and cheap pack our grocery bags and our stomachs. Notice too, how so many of these energy-dense or calorie-loaded foods are advertised with children in mind. The Journal of the American Medical Association No. 292 looked at the connection between “Sugar sweetened beverages, weight gain and the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes”.

If healthy food items like fish, fresh vegetables, fruit, lean meat and “provisions” cost more than those with flour, added sugars, salt and fats, then in these hard times food-based illnesses like diabetes 2, hypertension, and some cancers are going to increase among us. We have got to deal with these hogwash foods in a serious way. At this point though, let us read how the connection between foods and disease is expressed by technical reports. Cardiovascular (Heart) diseases are rooted in the nutritional patterns of a given society.

  •  At least 80% of the population burden of diabetes can be attributed to the presence of overweight /obesity in the population.
  • Deaths associated with diabetes are primarily cardiovascular in nature.
  • It is generally accepted that diets high in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer.

In summary, the pattern we observe is that we are feeding ourselves with chronic diseases, not by will really, but moreso because “the global food market is controlled by a small number of companies that operate a system that delivers cheap (hogwash) food to countries”. How can this be changed? I think that the local supply of fruits and vegetables will continue to increase, as more farmers and farmland are forced out of banana and plantain by the government. This increase in supply requires an increase in demand by consumers through education and lower prices. That will help out hogwash foods, but that is not enough. Political and policy action must play its part.

In September 2007, Caricom (Heads) came up with a Policy declaration to combat chronic diseases, full of powerful promises to support new initiatives. One year later, in September 2008, our own government launched our Wellness Revolution policy, and there is an annual Caribbean Wellness Day throughout the region. Things have been and are being done by public servants in health and sports departments, but what about the “Food and Wellness” part? Here is a Policy recommendation on obesity to CARICOM from 2006:

“Institute laws, regulations and regulatory practices that will enable people to make healthy dietary choices, restrict advertising of high sugar/fat foods to children, make more food available to support nutritionally desirable diets and promote physical activity in all population groups”.

We should implement this policy option and halt the hogwash.

You know one of the steps that CARICOM should take to the international system? A complaint against the large food companies for compensation for the diseases and deaths that their hogwash foods pump into us. Don’t beg for help to deal with the diseases; win the money on behalf of our sick, our amputees and our deceased, so that we reduce death and improve lives. Others did similar things with tobacco.

Hogwash foods must pay.