Health Minister: Cut down on doubles, fast foods

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

– Laurel V Williams

The Health Minister has urged parents and guardians to ensure that fast food is not a mainstay of their children’s diets.

“Chicken and chips, pizzas, and hamburgers are not meal plans,” Terrence Deyalsingh said.

He urged people to substitute sugary beverages with water and pay attention to the “sugar shocker.” He advised people to drink soft drinks and eat fast foods in moderation. He also encouraged people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“Take ownership of your children’s health by not exposing them every day to fast foods and sugary drinks. Let it be a treat. I am not saying no doubles ever, no chicken and chips ever, no hamburgers ever. I am saying do things in moderation,” Deyalsingh said.

To adults, Deyalsingh added: “It is not too late to take ownership of your health and that of your families.”

He spoke on Saturday at the inaugural ceremony of TT Moves health and wellness festival, a movement for lifestyle change. The event was held at Naparima Bowl in San Fernando. The South-West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) in collaboration with the ministry, hosted the festival.

– Laurel V Williams

Deyalsingh said as they moved from a model of a health clinic to a health festival to celebrate health and wellness, significant focus was placed on mental health.

“Covid has shown and has exacerbated mental health issues like depression, suicidal thoughts, family violence, and gender-based violence,” Deyalsingh said.

“There is no wellness, there is no health if you are not mentally and psychologically healthy. There is no dividing line between mental health and physical health, and we are bringing those two elements together.”

He charged that 42 per of the over the 4,000 people who died during covid had high blood pressure as a comorbidity, and over 40 per cent had diabetes as a comorbidity.

“If those figures were lower, our mortality rate would have been significantly better. This is something that the Ministry of Health is paying attention to,” Deyalsingh said.

“The issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) cannot be looked at in pockets of age. We have to adopt what we call the life course approach to it.”

He added that healthcare professionals are tackling it at the point of pregnancy.

“We have diabetes and pregnancy programme where when we catch a diabetic mother and start to control diabetes during gestation,” Deyalsingh said.

It is common knowledge that in a diabetic mother, especially if she is obese and overweight, the baby that is forming also has a greater chance of being born larger.

– Laurel V Williams

“Coming through the birth canal with a large baby, you can have complications that lead to bleeding and maternal mortality,” Deyalsingh said.

He recalled that the ministry instituted in 2020 the national breastfeeding policy.

Before that policy, the minister said, ten per cent of women in public health systems were breastfeeding within 24 hours of giving birth. After the policy, the percentage increased to 95 per cent.

“Our maternal mortality rate is one of the best in the world. We are also tracking our success in driving down blood pressure numbers through our Hearts programme, through PAHO (the Pan American Health Organization),” Deyalsingh said.

“As we approach the issue of NCDs, join us in this life course approach from diabetes and pregnancy to breastfeeding to giving your children a fighting chance.”

He recalled that in 2019, the ministry decided to ban the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools. This means school children are not in an obesogenic environment for at least a few hours daily.

“But then we need parents to continue that in their homes. Your fridges are harbingers of bad health and harbingers of death, the type of foods you have in it and the soft drinks,” Deyalsingh said.

The minister also did a “soft launch” of the Ministry’s TT Moves pedometer app.

“We are asking people to set a goal of 4,000 steps per day. It tracks your calorie output, and as we add more features, it will become your passport to good health, and we are going to launch this in schools,” Deyalsingh said.

SWRHA CEO Dr Brian Armour said it was no surprise that the SWRHA had been chosen to lead the way for “this family affair,” adding that the environment was already a beehive of foot traffic.

Armour recalled that SWRHA hosted a Men’s Health initiative in July at the Point Fortin and the San Fernando hospitals. Earlier, in March, SWRHA celebrated its Women’s Only programme. He added both were initiatives as part of the ministry’s national initiative across all regional health authorities (RHAs).

SWRHA, he said, is committed to transforming healthcare delivery in the region in keeping with the national health priorities by attempting to reduce NCDs, increase voluntary non-remunerated blood donations, and implement rapid HIV testing at all its centres.

“SWRHA will continue to offer support through all the necessary means, which ensures that your health and well-being are adequately cared for,” Armour said.

He thanked the 80 volunteers from national youth advocacy organisations and all other partner agencies, saying they had made an invaluable contribution to health and wellness.

Co-ordinator Dr Sandi Arthur said TT Moves were built on the tenets of being physically active, drinking water, and consuming fruits and vegetables. These are the basis for helping to prevent and manage NCDs.

“It sounds simple enough, but from my experience, many have challenges sticking to them. Today, the SWRHA has created an immersive and supportive environment for individuals to gain better insight into their health and wellness.”

San Fernando West MP Faris Al-Rawi commended the ministry for various initiative. He said he believes in eating healthily, exercising and finding balance.

“I do not see food. I see it in calorific numbers. The moment someone understands that there is a calorific variation between fried and steamed wantons, a healthy choice is made. For us, that means taking the challenge to schools and introducing technology use of numbers,” Al-Rawi said.

“Most people do not know that a can of Coke has an additive to avoid you feeling sick over the amount of sugar you consume.”

Dr Maria Clapperton, director of NCDs at the ministry, said such festivals bring people one step further along the journey towards addressing NCDS issues.

Clapperton added, “The TT Moves health and wellness festivals are not only geared towards promoting healthy lifestyle practises but also create an avenue where healthcare services are made more accessible to people in the community. Linkage to care is a key feature of these festivals.”