Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 16th 2014 Contents A5
Thursday, January 16, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
T&T s burgeoning obesity epidemic
is costing taxpayers $5 billion a year
in medical costs and that figure is set
to rise unless people make serious
So said Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan
yesterday as he expressed displeasure
over the increasing number of patients
suffering from the complications of
That, he said, was contributing to
overcrowding at public health institu-
He added: "When people are
unhealthy they end up increasing the
hospital space and bed use. So right
now the cost to the country is more
than $5 billion a year because the private
sector...we do not even count that.
"The health sector is geared towards
treating these people who are basically
unhealthy as a result of their diet habits
and as a result of their lifestyle and if
I try and equate what happens to the
private sector, the overall thing might
be over $5 billion and more," Khan said.
Khan, in an interview with the T&T
Guardian yesterday, made no apologies
for calling citizens "lazy" and saying
that they were creating the crisis in
which the hospitals are packed to capac-
ity.He made the statements in a Trinidad
Express article yesterday in which he
said people were making themselves
The Health Minister told the T&T
Guardian the situation was "bad."
"That is why I decided to make that
utterance. Who do not like it, well, too
bad, that is their business. Who find I
too blunt, well, that is their business.
"We have to take the bull by the horns
and deal with it. There is all these
admissions. They want more beds, they
want more beds to lie down on it
because you not eating healthy, you are
creating this problem.
"Stop creating this problem," Khan
The minister said a number of the
cases in hospitals that take up the med-
ical beds and the medical wards "can
all be prevented or decreased to 90 per
cent if people take care of themselves,
take care of a healthy lifestyle."
He said the obesity epidemic was
creating a strain on the national budget
every year and had an impact, not only
on the health sector but social services
He added: "Not only are you treating
them, they cannot work, so they are
not contributing to the economy. They
are sending their families into poverty
so the State has to mind the poor fam-
ilies because the breadwinner is suffering
from a non-communicable disease and
cannot work. So it puts a strain on the
As a nation, Khan said, T&T had to
face the obesity epidemic, which was
not only affecting adults but children
Khan said T&T registered a 65 per
cent overall increase in obesity in the
last 15 years while children registered a
55 per cent increase.
"That is the biggest epidemic that is
facing us but people are tolerating it
because they figure that this is what
happens as a result of onward living
but that is not so," he said.
Khan declined to label the ministry s
"Fight the Fat" campaign as unsuc-
cessful and said this year the campaign
would be aggressively pursued under
the theme "Love Yourself".
The aim, he said, was to get citizens
to eat healthily, exercise regularly, eat
more vegetables and know their num-
bers---blood pressure and sugar figures.
Through that, he said, citizens could
prevent any complications taking place.
"If people do this as a lifestyle
change,rather than expecting the hos-
pitals to fix them when they have their
indulgences (like) eating processed foods,
sugars, oils, carbohydrates in abundance,
then you will end up with a group of
individuals who do not end up in hos-
pitals every two days," he said.
Khan added: "I am supposed to be
the minister of health not the minister
Co-ordinated effort needed
Paediatrician and T&T Guardian
columnist Dr David Bratt says it was
unfair of Khan to blame the public for
the health crisis.
He said a government has a respon-
sibility to educate its population on crit-
ical health issues and take an active role
in ensuring public health.
Bratt, speaking with the T&T
Guardian in a telephone interview yes-
"Dr Khan has been talking about
education for a number of years now
but I am yet to see a sustained public
health educational campaign in T&T
telling people about how to make the
changes to their lifestyle."
While Bratt agreed to some extent
that people had to take some blame for
their health, he said the Government
had to take a strategic approach to deal
with obesity and non-communicable
Bratt said a co-ordinated approach
was needed to help people make key
lifestyle changes and there must be
partnerships with professional organ-
isations, such as nutritionists, dietitians,
medical professionals, to develop a plan
to attack the problem.
"There are things the Government
can do that I do not think they are
doing. I think it is easy to talk and blame
people and they will like to blame people
for everything but they have to take
some action. It is a national problem
and it needs the Government to address
it," he said.
Bratt suggested tax incentives for
companies that bought gym equipment
or promoted exercise in the workplace,
increased support for farmers and pro-
moting breast-feeding by increasing the
cost of infant formula.
"We know that breast milk is linked
with less obesity. If you breastfeed your
child for the first year of life the child
has much less chance of becoming obese
and therefore developing heart disease
and all those long-term things, like
stroke and blood pressure," he added.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-
Bissessar yesterday described as
"unacceptable" the fact that out
of 97 vacancies at the Children s
Authority, only 19 had been filled
Persad-Bissessar was speaking
at the launch of the Break the
Silence Campaign at the Hyatt
She has mandated Minister of
Gender, Youth and Child Devel-
opment Clifton De Coteau to have
the positions filled as soon as pos-
"The task force found that of
97 vacancies which currently exist,
only 19 of those positions are filled.
Can you believe that?
"It cannot be acceptable that if
we have 97 positions and only 19
are filled," the Prime Minister said.
This issue was among a list of
recommendations which needed
urgent attention listed in the first
report of the Child Protection Task
Force, which was presented to the
Prime Minister late last year.
Persad-Bissessar said she also
had instructed an inter-ministerial
team to ensure that the authority
was given financial resources so it
could become fully functional by
the expected date of June 2014.
Statistics presented by the task
force revealed that between 2007
and 2012 sexual offences and rob-
beries were by far the most impor-
tant types of crimes committed
against children, Persad-Bissessar
"Sexual offences and robberies
accounted for approximately 84
per cent of the crimes committed
against children, at 42 per cent
each. Children make up 25 per cent
of our population," she added.
Urging that more men should
get involved in the protection of
children, Persad-Bissessar said:
"Perhaps women and mothers
take the responsibility very seri-
ously but where does the abuse
come, really... where does it come
from? From the women? From the
mothers?...maybe, sometimes, but
most of the cases we hear and
most of the cases that are reported,
it comes from the menfolk."
She said if society failed to find
a way to get more men to safeguard
children, then campaigns, such as
Break the Silence and others, would
be deemed useless.
When it is reported a child has
suffered unimaginable abuse, Per-
sad-Bissessar said, there was an
immediate fury, resulting in the
public calling for instant justice.
"Breaking the silence will not
only uncover the horror that some
children must endure but could
also prevent that by identifying
the risks and acting appropriately.
"To break the silence one thing
that we must do is to surrender
the urge that fuels national fury
after news of child abuse comes
out," she added.
Persad-Bissessar said on the part
of Government it was all too easy
to say "we cannot be in every
home and every community at all
times" but initiatives were being
implemented to tackle the scourge.
Parents and adults must also
share in the responsibility of
shielding children from abuse, she
Regarding infrastructure, Per-
sad-Bissessar said work was
expected to begin this month on
the authority s first assessment
centre at the children s hospital at
the Eric Williams Medical Sciences
Complex, Mt Hope.
Centres at Ste Madeleine and
Chaguanas were expected to be
fully operational by next Septem-
"These centres will provide an
expanded presence of the critical
personnel who can receive, assess
and activate emergency processes
wherever a child is believed to be
facing abuse of any kind. We can
do more to ensure our children
can live their lives as children with-
out risk," Persad-Bissessar added.
Salaries being sorted out,
says De Coteau
Fielding questions from the
media after the event, De Coteau
said the delay in filling the vacan-
cies centred on salary negotiations.
"You could not get people of
substance accepting those salaries.
So there was this challenge. The
issue is in front of the CPO (Chief
Personnel Officer) right now and
we are going to have some finality
to it," De Coteau said.
He assured that T&T had "very
qualified" people to take up the
posts. Education, he urged, was
necessary to make parents aware
of the dangers of child abuse. (See
PM decries vacancies
at Children's Authority
'Only 19 of 97 filled'
Khan: T&T must face
Permanent secretary Candice Wallace-Henry pins a Break the Silence pin on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-
Bissessar while Gender, Youth and Child Development Minister Clifton De Coteau looks on at the ministry's
launch of Break the Silence: End Child Sexual Abuse at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.
PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
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