Fat Taxes: What Role for Fiscal Policy Interventions in Promoting Good Health in Barbados?

Alicia Nicholls

obesityPublic health is once again under the microscope in Barbados, with the lens being focused on the crippling burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the country’s health care system. According to data reported by Nation News, “an estimated 64 per cent of adult Barbadians are overweight and 31 per cent of children are obese or overweight”. If that is not worrying enough, NCDs account for 84 percent of total deaths in Barbados, according to World Health Organisation estimates. What is more, the rates of diabetes and diabetic-related amputations in Barbados are among the highest in the world. The net result is a reported $700 million a year health care budget, which is very unsustainable for a cash-strapped small island developing state which also has an aging population.

Not for the first time, public health advocates in Barbados have proposed levying a tax on foods with high fat and sugar contents as one policy measure to force dietary change among Barbadians. While it would appear that this suggestion has not met with the Barbados Government’s approval at this time, it does raise the question of what role could and should fiscal policy interventions play in promoting good health in Barbados.

Read full text – Fat Taxes: What Role for Fiscal Policy Interventions in Promoting Good Health in Barbados?


49 Comments on “Fat Taxes: What Role for Fiscal Policy Interventions in Promoting Good Health in Barbados?”

  1. Hants February 16, 2016 at 8:30 PM #

    Salt an Fat can’t done…..



  2. ac February 16, 2016 at 9:06 PM #

    that is a political hot potato that no govt would dare touch


  3. ac February 16, 2016 at 9:18 PM #

    What fat tax people who are always talking about peoples right should also be guided by a peoples right to a free market of consumption without scripted govt intrusion on an individual right of purchasing power
    The govt has a right to pass laws making the manufacture accountable on placing or providing labeling content of food products in areas accessible for reading in order for the consumer to make the right decision whether the product is harmful to their health ,
    What fat tax get outta here with that crazy nonsense .


  4. Crusoe February 16, 2016 at 9:29 PM #

    Fat Tax BS. Why not put a tax on those companies producing sugary sodas and importing all of the artificial crap?


  5. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 10:35 PM #

    @”If that is not worrying enough, NCDs account for 84 percent of total deaths in Barbados, according to World Health Organisation estimates.”

    I would not worry too much about this figure, as it is better to die of an NCD at 85 that to be murdered at 20.

    The mortality rate for all countries is 100%

    We were born and 100% of us will eventually die.


  6. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 10:36 PM #

    However what I do worry about is premature sickness, disability and deaths, that is serious issues including death which occur before the age of 70.


  7. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 10:38 PM #

    The truth is we are eating too much, and way too much of high fat, high sugar, high salt foods.

    And we have become physically lazy. We do not move our bodies enough (except maybe at Crop Over)


  8. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 10:40 PM #

    I can’t count the number of people who went to my rural elementary school who have NCD’s, who have had strokes, who have had heart attacks, who have had amputations.

    All this bad stuff before the age of 60.

    Yes I said 60.

    This is not good


  9. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 10:42 PM #

    Yes government should heavily tax high fat, high salt, high sugar foods.

    But I am looking at my most recent hopping list and there is VAT on frozen flying fish, but not of canned salted corned beef.



  10. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 11:03 PM #

    But government needs to do more.

    More public education.

    More and better sidewalks (forget the flyovers) maybe if we had decent sidewalks especially near to schools children could walk to school and they would not be so fat and since the parents would not have to drive them fewer traffic jams and pollution. And sidewalks are not nearly as expensive as flyovers.

    More government green spaces. More government parks.

    As a condition of building housing developments compel developers to provide adequate play space, not only for tots, for for teens as well.

    More and better street lighting, so that people, especially older ones can see to go walking late evenings when it is a bit cooler.

    More support from everybody for local agriculture which provides fresh low fat, low sugar, low salt food, and plenty of exercise for those who work in agriculture.

    Encourage community gardens, or what the English call allottments. In every suburb and village of Barbados there are acres and acres of land which is not being cultivated. What if we could pay the land owner(s) a modest rent, and agree not to install permanent structure and cultivate the vacant lots in our communities. When the land owner is ready he could give us 6 months to quit. We would harvest our crops and he/she can start building. Take note that many of these lots remain vacant for decades, when they can be brought into healthy food production.

    Of course we should ban the sale of sweet drinks in and around schools. People who sell in and around schools should be permitted to sell, water, coconut water, and 100% juice and milk only.

    Permit coconut water vendors to sell in and around schools. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our children learned to quench their thirst with water, or coconut water instead of with Coca-Cola?


  11. Simple Simon February 16, 2016 at 11:15 PM #

    And good health is so important that we should introduce or reintroduce cooking in ALL schools. Every child on leaving school should know how to cook at least a dozen healthy dishes, starting of course with coo-coo and steamed flying fish, with a cucumber and avocado pear salad.

    Too many people eat at the establishments of the fried grease merchants because they do not know how to cook a bowl of cornmeal or oatmeal porridge, or a nice bowl of coo-coo.

    Teach everybody how to cook.

    We disadvantage our children if we permit them to leave our homes and our schools without knowing how to cook.


  12. David February 17, 2016 at 6:30 AM #

    Interesting some of the same suspects would wave the discrimination and rights flags against the imposition of a fat tax and with the wrapper incident would toss the same principled position through the window. The same position is noticeable regarding waste wast management – reused recycle.To be taken seriously one has to be consistent. Why not argue against laws on the books that address public morals? As a society there is a need at times to protect mankind from itself doe the sake of the collective. Does anyone seriously believe a nation hooked on ‘sugar’ will suddenly shift behaviour? And while we ponder if this will occur the country is pulled under by the rising cost to healthcare? We have reached a point where drastic positions must be taken.


  13. ac February 17, 2016 at 7:24 AM #

    @ speckled fowl (David) when people work for their hard earned money it is a guaranteed right of privilege for an individual to spend their money in a free consumers market on products of their choosing
    The fact being that govts have put laws in place with the effect of giving consumers a chance of knowing what ingredients are put in manufactured products for consumption before purchasing including purchases made at fast food restaurants
    In a free and Democratic capitalist market the consumer has a right to choose.
    Trying to mix oranges with apples under the misguided application where disrespect should be regarded as an abnormality with a defiance to a necessary compliance to protect the environment is insane and ridiculous


  14. lawson February 17, 2016 at 7:29 AM #

    Having a fat tax in Barbados makes as much sense as having a smart tax


  15. David February 17, 2016 at 7:39 AM #


    The issue of NCDs and related is a big issue for Barbados and merits serious national discussion. It is interesting that in the UK there is serious national discussion about mental health. What should be evident by now is that our bloated political and medical leaders are clueless.


  16. Bush Tea February 17, 2016 at 8:40 AM #

    LOL @ David
    There should be a fat tax imposed….. not in order to protect anyone from themselves, but based on the basic meritocracy principle of paying for use.

    If AC or any other idiot wants to consume all the fast food that Bizzy and Cheffette can sell – THAT IS THEIR RIGHT.
    The state only OWES it to them to educate everyone as to the dangers, the consequences and the price to be paid.
    Then instead of waiting 10 years for the idiots to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and circulation issues requiring amputations, the tax simply allows them to start making contributions to their future medical costs proactively.

    What government needs to do is stop pretending that this is being done in the citizen’s own health interest….. no one believes that shiite… If Government was interested in citizen’s health interest they would simple find a competent Minister of Health and director of the QEH.

    Similarly, anyone found littering should automatically find themselves in a higher tax bracket (to help cover the cost of cleanup and of any resulting health challenges)

    …anyone caught speeding should have their road taxes increased by a multiple of two to cover the anticipated cost of accidents they will likely cause

    ….and anyone over a prescribed weight / height limit should be required to pay for the additional wear and tear they cause in general….and the future health liability which they represent.

    Of course this will not apply to CBC, since being fat as shiite seems to be the qualification for being up there – sitting around in giant sized chairs eating away the time ..while American soap operas and old local shows of people cooking or singing stream out across TV land…


  17. David February 17, 2016 at 8:48 AM #

    Another irony is that all taxpayers have to pay for the bad choices being made. It is not fair to those who practice healthy living.


  18. Roverp February 17, 2016 at 8:54 AM #

    Truth is a fat tax might not work as we all know habits are hard to break. It will take a AA type program to break the BAD eating habits of Barbadians. All the tax may do is give government more money to waste on non-productive projects.


  19. racehrse February 17, 2016 at 8:59 AM #

    Obesity is a problem, and government should have educational programs at all levels to try and education the population as to it’s dangers. It should also have incentives through it’s clinic’s that reward weight loss with gift cards usable at certain establishments that promote health, or sundry items but not food. Apply incremental medical charges to patients who don’t meet program expectations, and needs. Don’t tax me, or suppliers of products to pay for the unhealthy lifestyle of others. Give suppliers tax incentives to bring in healthy products that meet government requirements.


  20. ac February 17, 2016 at 9:02 AM #

    The key word of importance is for govt to have alternative solutions starting with education in the schools at early age. This in itself start a develpomental mindset with a greater advantage starting from childhoohood stage to adult hood with having a better understanding of the necessity and relevance of making correct health choices that are of benefit to healthy lifestyles
    This knee jerk reaction is comprise of trying to find a short term solution which in effect cannot temper peoples taste for foods that there bodies would continue to have cravings by reason of addiction


  21. Artax February 17, 2016 at 9:25 AM #

    David February 17, 2016 at 6:30 AM #

    “Does anyone seriously believe a nation hooked on ‘sugar’ will suddenly shift behaviour? And while we ponder if this will occur the country is pulled under by the rising cost to healthcare?”

    Very interesting comments indeed, especially against the background that the Minister of Health on one hand has been emphasizing an increase in NCD and a corresponding increase in the cost of healthcare; while on the other hand the Minister of Agriculture is seeking to revamp a failing sugar industry, and the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development is encouraging an increase in alcohol production (both of which are vital to our economy).

    Additionally, a visit of the DLP’s web-site revealed that: “Preparatory work is finally under way for the proposed multi-purpose sugar factory at Andrews, St Joseph. Inter-Sugar Partnership Limited (ISP), the Caribbean-based advisor of international private/public partnership (PPP) projects, earlier this year signed a legal memorandum with the government of Barbados to proceed with the cane industry restructuring project (CIRP).”

    Chairman of ISP Anthony DaSilva is reported as saying what is being proposed here will be the largest construction project every built in Barbados, which government previously revealed will not exceed the USD $270 million price tag.

    The Minister of Health is struggling to address health care issues and the promise to building a new hospital.

    This is where educating Barbadians about healthy life-styles and making the right choices should come to the fore.


  22. David February 17, 2016 at 10:19 AM #

    Our landscape lacks leadership. We imposed a sweet drink tax where the motive is to generate revenue. In the same way individual rights are being violated with the imposition on Barbadians of the requirement to fingerprint in entering Barbados, similarly, we need to intervene with drastic action to influence a shift in lifestyle. We ate the amputation capital of the world after all.


  23. de Ingrunt Word February 17, 2016 at 10:40 AM #

    @ David at 7:39 AM absolutely right that “the issue of NCDs and related is a big issue for Barbados and merits serious national discussion.” And your other statement is even more direct and accurate: “Another irony is that all taxpayers have to pay for the bad choices being made…”

    That is also related to littering, public transport, overall medical care etc etc. Government levies taxes on all in order to provide services to all….intro to Economics …(for all old schoolers, that would be Lipsey …LOLL)

    Any this debate is as old as that economics text…Many here can recall the days of Carmeta Fraser and her excellent presentations on food and health habits…what’s that 30+ years ago?

    In more recent times I recall Dr. Fraser making some very unpopular announcements about the message that might resonate re eating and health behaviors re that show for ‘Big Women’. I mention that not to disparage the ladies but to highlight the debate then. Then and previous he and others had also spoken about the diabetes related amputation epidemic in Bim and our use of all that ‘gravy’, about hyper tension etc etc.

    So all that to say: what exactly does KFC, Chefette or Burger KIng specifically have to with the debate as a source of this problem? Didn’t we ALWAYS eat a lot of fried or baked chicken and tons of bread with fish or cheese or some other vital between the halves?

    Didn’t we go to Baxters Road, Nelson St and all over to buy those full-of-sugar lead-pipes and so on?

    Our issues are long standing and chronic and we do indeed need to CHANGE.

    So the lack of exercise; more walking, more outdoor activity across the board (and I am not talking about the fad folks in a gym) is a concern.

    The proliferation of ‘comparatively cheap’ food – the mac pie etc – which makes up the daily diet of multitudes of Bajans, is an even bigger issue.

    And top of the pops is all the sugar we take in from candy bars, the salt from the packages of chips, the soda and the all too readily available other snack items which kids and adults eat with relish often and in great quantity.

    And don’t forget those bars of nuts and granola which seem to have more grams of sugar than a stalk of sugarcane and are supposedly good for an infusion of energy

    As suggested above by @racehrse and others, there needs to be more business INCENTIVES on the HEALTHY FOODS: ground provisions, veggies etc. And back to Carmeta’s more and exciting ways to offer these options in a tasty and wonderful way at the fast food places.

    As @SImple suggested it is back-ass-wards policy to tax a ‘fresh’ frozen fish and leave the processed food untouched and then enjoin a debate on healthy eating.

    We need to change habits surely but denying or taxing the bad is only one small aspect of that… a higher cost package of chips will not be the tipping point to solve the problem.


  24. lawson February 17, 2016 at 10:46 AM #

    Living outside the fish bowl everything in Barbados is sweeter than home, the fruits and vegetables the coke, the ketchup the cakes even savoury dishes taste sweet. When I get home after a trip everything I consume seems bland after the sugar high off the island. Maybe it is the soil making everything produced sweeter after years of cultivation or sugar is used as a filler because it is so plentiful but there is a difference than what we have in Canada.


  25. ac February 17, 2016 at 12:05 PM #

    The landscape lack leadership and vision many years ago. This new idea of punishing after the horse has bolted can be attributed to a political landscape infuenced by yardfowls politics which panders to a sickening appettites fir what seems practicle
    Unfortunately the time always comes when both political directorate and society has to pay the piper meeting at interesections unable to avoid the inevitable


  26. Vincent Haynes February 17, 2016 at 1:32 PM #

    I am a diabetic and have great difficulty in finding non-sugar items at a reasonable price…..it has always baffled me how brown rice(unrefined) is more expensive than white rice which has been milled and that goes across the board with things like jam,drinks,etc,etc.


  27. ac February 17, 2016 at 2:09 PM #

    The fat tax is a regressive tax it punishes the consumer as well as the businees owner who through no fault of their own has to rely on buying products at a lower price in order to adjust to a consumer demand for product andselling their product at reasonable price
    The organic market is another alternative but for small island nations the prices areout of reach for the average household


  28. David February 17, 2016 at 3:28 PM #

    @Dee Word

    Carmeta must be rolling in her grave, with great difficulty.


  29. de Ingrunt Word February 17, 2016 at 4:42 PM #

    @Vincent…@ 1:32 PM. Touché . That is the damn racket called life. All the things that fuel the economic growth in medical sciences (doctor treatment, technoligical devices, insurance HMO etc) are now cheap and readily available.

    The things that are touted as being more healthy (organics-which I see as a awesome ripoff, low sugar & low salt substitutes etc) are more expensive.

    But then again it can also be argued that many people eat and drink the same stuff but those who overdo or are under-active suffer while their fellow citizens who operate in moderation and keep active are OK.

    Life’s wonderful racket…we are hamsters in the spinning wheel. Do we run or do we get off to eat and live and stay off the wheel.

    @David at 3:28…LOL…I believe the jovial Carmeta would appreciate that joke. She certainly was a well-proportioned lady. In keeping with her mantra of eating well.

    It should be noted that a lady or a guy can be pleasing, well-proportioned and also be extremely healthy and fit.


  30. LOOK February 17, 2016 at 6:15 PM #

    I would not live there. I just would not live there.


  31. Simple Simon February 18, 2016 at 11:35 AM #

    @David February 17, 2016 at 3:28 PM “Carmeta must be rolling in her grave, with great difficulty.”

    Carmeta was in spite of her long talk and really good intentions…was what we call in Barbados a “heavy sweet”.



  32. Simple Simon February 18, 2016 at 11:51 AM #

    @Vincent Haynes February 17, 2016 at 1:32 PM “I am a diabetic and have great difficulty in finding non-sugar items at a reasonable price….”

    In all seriousness Vincent. Maybe you should shop at a market instead of a supermarket.

    There are way too many sweet temptations in a supermarket.

    Buy your soap and cleaning supplies, that is your non-food supplies from a supermarket or a big box store…

    then once a week go to a market for your real, real food, that is fruit, vegetables, ground provision, fish, meat, eggs, then build your weekly menus around what you have bought from the market.

    It takes discipline but it is workable.

    Better still if you have some time and space grow some of your own produce and learn to like and to eat whatever you grow (and share the surplus with your family, friends and neighbours.

    I picked 15 cucumbers yesterday, way to many for my household, so I shared some with 3 other households, because I’ll pick another dozen or so tomorrow. The seeds for the planting cost about $2.

    Commercial agriculture is a necessity.

    But we must not turn up our noses at small scale agriculture/kitchen gardens.


  33. Hants February 18, 2016 at 12:12 PM #

    @ Simple Simon,

    Excellent suggestions. When in Barbados I used to buy local fruit and vegetables from roadside vendors.

    Remember buying figs and bananas at Eagle Hall on a Sunday morning.


  34. Simple Simon February 18, 2016 at 12:42 PM #

    Just had a cucumber and pear salad, with some sweet potato cooked in the skin (stew potatoes). All of which i grew myself. A little lime juice with limes got from a neighbour. A little onion got from another friend who grows onions commercially, but gives me a few free.

    Sweet, but no added sugar. No trip to the supermarket. My belly is full. Simple old fashioned food. I am happy.


  35. Vincent Haynes February 18, 2016 at 12:44 PM #

    de Ingrunt Word February 17, 2016 at 4:42 PM #

    You are quite correct with your hamster on a treadmill observation.

    Simple Simon February 18, 2016 at 11:51 AM #

    I have lived most of my life in Bim in the Scotland District,I have farmed,I knew Carmeta and followed her advice,I can cook.

    I was diagnosed 5 months ago with type 2 diabetes,I have made life changes,lost 20 pounds,reduced alcohol intake and eat small portions of what is recommended.

    I reiterate what I posted……non-sugar items at a reasonable price……That is my beef and I gave the example of how processed rice is cheaper than unhusked rice another one is the absence of diabetic jams&Jellies in most supermarkets.I can make them but pectin can only be had in big batches…..my point is that we are not trying to make life easy for the diabetic.


  36. Hants February 18, 2016 at 12:47 PM #

    Grow more food. Eat more fish.


  37. Hants February 18, 2016 at 1:04 PM #

    @ Simple Simon “All of which i grew myself.”

    So you are eating food that have taste.


  38. Simple Simon February 18, 2016 at 1:14 PM #

    Yes indeed.

    I have nothing against commercial agriculture because I understand that 8 billion people cannot be fed out of kitchen gardens, but I like the motto, think globally, act locally.

    That is when ever and wherever we can we should grow some of our own food, and support local agriculture.


  39. David February 18, 2016 at 1:42 PM #

    The government has distanced itself from the fat tax.


  40. ac February 18, 2016 at 2:10 PM #

    On the premise it might hurt business and run the risk of unemploment


  41. ac February 18, 2016 at 2:17 PM #

    Would not be surprise if the issue is revisted in the future under a more favourable economic conditions to futher bloster burdening health cos


  42. Simple Simon February 18, 2016 at 3:10 PM #

    @Vincent Haynes February 18, 2016 at 12:44 PM

    Points taken. You are correct.


  43. David February 18, 2016 at 3:51 PM #

    The government’s position is that to impose a fat tax would be discriminatory.


  44. Gabriel February 18, 2016 at 6:31 PM #

    Barbados a country with 400 years experience in manufacturing sugar and rum.Add to that the need to have the native whites and blacks fed on food without the luxury of refrigeration,that is processed foods..salted pork,salted beef,and salted fish to supplement the local meat produced on the plantation.Is it a surprise Bdos has its fair share of hypertension and diabetes?Even yam,cassava,corn,rice,carrots,peas,banana,soursop,
    orange,golden apple,papaw,cantaloupe,breadfruit,cherries,eddoes,plums,milk,corn,wheat
    bread,biscuits,both sweet and english potato, are all restricted foods to a diabetic.Bajans come along and find sugar cakes,fudge,ice cream,coconut bread,milk shakes,pone,salt bread,biscuits,turnovers.All these are bad news to the diabetic.My mum had her fair share of all these items,was not in to exercise but her mantra was ‘everything in moderation’.She
    was an Anglican all her life,had an abiding faith in her bible,lived to see 94,had control of all her faculties,passing on in her bed,asleep.


  45. Vincent Haynes February 19, 2016 at 5:01 PM #

    David February 18, 2016 at 3:51 PM #

    What we need is equity in the prices of sugar free products.

    Nothing,not even sugar is harmfull to a diabetic once you know how much to use,what to balance it with and do blood testing when using a different food.

    The balance in most cases is found in imported foods with high tarifs.


  46. David February 19, 2016 at 5:28 PM #

    Interesting to note the comment attributed to a doctor about fat tax was a misquote.

    The media!


  47. Simple Simon February 19, 2016 at 6:06 PM #

    I was at that meeting at QC and indeed the UWI doctor/researcher never said anything about a fat tax.

    The media misquoted the good lady.

    A fat tax would be impossible to apply.

    But a tax on high fat, high sugar foods easy.

    For example the government should right away remove the VAT from frozen fish, and place that same VAT on corned beef, luncheon meat, bacon etc.



  48. Simple Simon February 19, 2016 at 6:18 PM #

    For example how would/could any government tax young people with Prader-Willi, or Down Syndrome since these people are often obese and developmentally delayed and unable to earn any income.


    How do you tax a person who cannot earn any income?

    The mass media needs to be well read, and to get things right.


  49. Vincent Haynes February 21, 2016 at 12:22 PM #

    A good discussion on todays Brasstacks is going on now using the title “Fat tax” but delving into the worlwide problem of obesity and seeing how Bim can deal with it.

    The point was made that in general,worldwide healthy food is more expensive than bad foods.


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