DeSilva: Obesity bigger problem than smoking
The Government should prioritise tackling Bermuda's sky-high obesity rates over curbing its tobacco use, according to former Minister of Health Zane DeSilva.
However, the Ministry of Health, Seniors and Environment responded by insisting that it was committed to tackling all lifestyle-related chronic conditions on the Island.
Mr DeSilva raised the issue at last week's House of Assembly, as the controversial Tobacco Control Act passed following a series of amendments.
The Progressive Labour Party MP claimed that the Island's population struggles far more with weight problems than tobacco use. This view was backed up by fellow PLP member Derrick Burgess, who argued that sugar caused more sickness worldwide than smoking, and should also face strict controls.
“Bermuda has one of the lowest smoking rates in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), but one of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and related amputations,” Mr DeSilva told The Royal Gazette.
The Southampton representative, a former smoker himself, added: “I don't have any issues trying to eliminate smoking altogether. You can double or triple the price of cigarettes as far as I'm concerned.
“But it seems to me that the One Bermuda Alliance is putting a lot of time and effort into the wrong area.”
Mr DeSilva suggested directing more money into advertising, awareness and education campaigns for nutrition, particularly in the fight against childhood obesity.
“We need to start early in the schools,” he said. “If we can get our kids eating correctly from a young age, then obviously it's going to help them as they move into adulthood.”
He also suggested that Bermuda's adult population could benefit from a few lessons in healthy eating as well.
“We put mayonnaise on everything,” said Mr DeSilva. “We eat more macaroni and cheese than anybody, and you go to KFC any day of the week and that place is packed.”
Mr DeSilva urged the Government to encourage healthy eating not just to benefit the public's waistlines, but their wallets as well.
“A lot of people will tell you that organic foods are a lot more expensive, and that's why they consume the fast food,” he said.
“Let's drop the duties on healthy foods and increase the duties on the foods that are doing our bodies all this harm.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Seniors and Environment hit back by claiming that last year, 206 deaths in Bermuda (43 per cent of total deaths) were classed as tobacco-related.
She said: “The Ministry reminds the public that smoking is the most significant cause of preventable, premature death.
“It is true that compared to the OECD, smoking rates in Bermuda are relatively low, but our lung cancer rates are among the highest compared to the OECD. Furthermore, it's important to remember smoking is associated with many other chronic conditions. The pain, suffering, loss of productivity and health costs that result from these preventable diseases is staggering and avoidable.
“Nevertheless, the Ministry is committed to tacking all causes of chronic non-communicable diseases that plague Bermuda.
“Obesity is among the preventable causes of disease, and the Ministry has its Move More Bermuda, School Nutrition Policy, EatWell Plate, Bermuda Dietary Guidelines and Healthy Schools campaigns to promote education and reduce obesity.
“The Ministry is working on tackling multiple multiple lifestyle behaviours that lesd to chronic conditions in order to reduce illness and control healthcare costs.”.”ifestyle behaviours that lead to chronic conditions in order to reduce illness and control healthcare costs.”