Deyalsingh: Trinidad and Tobago addicted to Coca-Cola, fatty foods

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh –

MINISTER OF HEALTH Terrence Deyalsingh said Trinidad and Tobago is addicted to drinks with high sugar content and fatty foods, pointing the finger directly at big international brands such as Coca-Cola, KFC, Dominoes, Mc Donalds and Wendy’s – all with local franchises in TT – for feeding the addiction.

He said the unhealthy lifestyles that come with patronising these brands lead to non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes and cancer.

“I know I’m going to get licks for this in the paper tomorrow, but we need to face the truth. All these things are addictive. It is no different from the cigarette industry.”

He said people are addicted to fats and sugar much in the same way that people are addicted to hard drugs such as cocaine.

“Everyone knows when we drink sugar – when we drink Coke or Pepsi – it lights up the brain in the same centres that lead to addiction,” he said. “They (TT citizens) are addicted to Coke and Pepsi. They are addicted to the fats in KFC and Royal Castle.”

Deyalsingh made these statements while addressing stakeholders at the opening ceremony of the U Caribbean Health Digest health and wellness expo held at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain on February 26.

He said collaboration was needed to properly inform the public and advise them against unhealthy lifestyles, suggesting that the government does not have the resources to go up against multi-million dollar companies that spend big bucks on advertising.

Trinidad and Tobago’s average budget, Deyalsingh said, was about TT$55 billion (US$8.09 billion) a year.

In Budget 2024 read in Parliament last year, the allocation for the health ministry was TT$7.4 billion.

According to Statista, Coca-Cola spent an average of US$4 billion (TT$27 billion) a year on advertising globally, with the exception of 2020, when it spent US$2.8 billion.

Statista revealed similar numbers for other major chains. Yum! Brands, the global parent company for KFC and Pizza Hut, spent US$78 million (TT$528 million) in 2022. Dominos spent US$33.8 million (TT$229 million).

He said while government has formed relationships with suppliers of medication and medical practitioners, these fields focus on treatment rather than prevention. He said more work and collaboration is needed to prevent non-communicable diseases. He also called for people to live healthier lifestyles, reduce their high sugar and fat intake and exercise.

“We are asking you to do three simple things: substitute Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Solo and Chubby, for water. I am not saying to cut it out, I am saying do it in moderation. Do not give your children a diet of KFC and pizza on a daily basis. Give them some fruits and vegetables, and that thing that you call stairs, use it.”

The U Caribbean Health and Wellness forum is a three-day expo highlighting health and wellness industries in Trinidad and Tobago. The forum also launched the new U Caribbean Health and Wellness Digest, established in 2008.

In her remarks, founding editor Sherine Mungal also said more collaboration was needed to further improve healthcare in Trinidad and Tobago.

“There are already significant areas of collaboration, especially in dialysis treatment and cardiac services, but more collaboration between the health sector and smaller private organisations will not only leverage the strengths of both to enhance healthcare accessibility, quality and overall system efficiency but together we can pioneer preventative initiatives for the benefit of all citizens.”

Editor-in-Chief Amira Mungal said the goal of the magazine is to promote better, healthier lifestyles.

“Our efforts are sacred, rooted in a steadfast belief in a healthier future,” she said.

“We take immense pride in our work, fully aware that there is a crucial space to fill. Our initiative serves as a bridge between people and care.”

“Achieving better health is not about choosing between one thing and the other, it is about embracing a holistic approach that incorporates various elements.”