Classrooms across the country will on Monday be occupied by our children as they begin the second term of the 2022/2023 academic school year. Whilst this will cause an influx of motor vehicles on our roads, particularly during the morning commute, we all welcome this time of the year when the formal education of our children continues as part of the many functions of an intelligent, uplifting and forward moving society.
Schools this time around, however, will be without an important item in the lunch bags of their charges – sweetened beverages.
The Ministry of Health, through the Ministry of Education, late last month announced a ban on all sugar sweetened beverages at all primary and secondary schools on the island. The ban came into effect Wednesday of this week.
The Ministry of Health was emphatic in stating that children will no longer be allowed to consume high sugar sweetened drinks on school premises. The ministry further emphasised that the recommended sugar content must be below one teaspoon per one hundred milliliter liquid.
For parents and guardians who are not familiar with the amount of sugar that should be in the beverages of their children, the ministry has gone a step further by stating it will provide guidance on label reading so parents and guardians can be informed on making healthier beverage choices.
In keeping with our healthy eating and healthy lifestyle pronouncements over the years, we are in support of this announcement by the Ministry of Health as it pertains to our children who are tomorrow’s leaders in all spheres of our society.
We believe this is one step closer to preparing our children for the roles they must play in society as adults. As our aged elders retire from the limelight, the vacancies that will emerge as a result will have to be filled by the young adults in our midst. And for our system and way of life to flourish, these vacancies must be filled by young adults who are physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. Anything short of that will deprive our system and way of life from longevity, buoyancy and hope.
As a country we cannot and must not grow up in sickness. We cannot put the achievements of today’s leaders in the hands of sick leaders tomorrow. This is exactly what will happen if we as a nation do not ban certain things in society that are detrimental to our health.
Surprisingly though, the ban announced by the Ministry of Health has not been met with approval by all parents, some of whom have taken the ministry to task by calling on the ministry to fill their children’s lunch bags for them.
We have yet to understand the reason any parent would have a problem with the announcement made by the ministry 10 days ago – it is, after all, only made for the benefit of our own children.
Diabetes is on the rise amongst children in Saint Lucia, a fact underscored by the Saint Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association. Unless we make every effort to rein this problem in, we will have a situation on our hands in the near future which will weigh heavily on not only our health facilities, but on all other facilities of the State.
The evidence before us is clear. The frequent consumption of sugar sweetened beverages among children and adolescents in Saint Lucia is high. What this means is that our children are at risk of weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout (a type of arthritis) and more.
And when we speak of sugar sweetened beverages, we are talking of drinks with added sugar such as sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks and some of those local juices that contain more sugars than the factory produced sodas and fruit juices.
We hope that parents and guardians, meaning all of them, abide by the ban as announced by the Ministry of Health. Surely, you want to see your children grow up to be healthy young men and women rightfully taking their place in society free from obesity, diabetes, kidney diseases, tooth decay and all the other attendant negatives?