Press Release – There’s never been a more critical time to protect our children and young people from the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle and promote their overall well-being. This is the key message of a campaign launched by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
The “Now More Than Ever: We Need To Protect Our Children” campaign seeks to increase awareness and knowledge of the dangers of ultra-processed foods (UPFs), which are high in sugars, fats and salts, and promote proper nutrition and physical activity as essential parts of children’s health, development and overall well-being. It will be rolled out across social and digital media in 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States, running until 26 November 2021.
According to PAHO Sub Regional Program Director, Mr. Dean Chambliss, “Without effective measures to prevent unhealthy diets, the rise of NCDs will remain unstoppable, with irreparable consequences on health, as well as economic development and productivity.”
The campaign builds on the “Now More Than Ever: Better Labels, Better Choices, Better Health” campaign launched earlier this year to promote front-of-package warning labelling, and is part of a wider regional advocacy and communications effort to promote healthy food environments. It calls for more collective action to protect and support the health and well-being of children, emphasizing that they need nutritious foods in order to grow, learn and thrive.
Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, UNICEF’s Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area Office stated that “It is vitally important that we give all our children the very best start in life by providing them with healthy foods – not those packed with sugars, fats and salts – and encouraging them to be as active as possible. If we don’t get this right, they face a lifetime of ill health and unfulfilled potential.”
Dr. Didacus Jules, OECS Director General, reinforced the importance of healthy diets for children and the risks associated with the overconsumption of UPFs. “We have very high rates of obesity which is increasing among our children. Ultra processed foods high in sugars, fats and salts have been proven to be exceedingly dangerous to our health. We must make it easier for parents and children to make informed choices”
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the environments in which school-aged children live, grow, learn and play – upending their lives at critical stages of growth and development. For many, the shift to online learning and the closure of schools has led to more time spent on electronic devices for school and leisure, reduced access to formal physical activity, and diets further laden with unhealthy UPFs.
“The past two years have been a shock to our systems, leaving potentially long-lasting impacts – particularly on our children – where we are seeing disturbing signs of increased overweight and obesity, amongst other serious health issues,” Maisha Hutton, HCC Executive Director noted. “We urgently need to work together to fast-track rights-based, protective and preventive double and triple duty health regulations, including food policies which support children’s right to healthy food environments.”
According to the campaign, access to nutritious foods is a key aspect of environments meant to support the health, well-being and development of children and young people.