The carnival season just ended for many islands (and is beginning for others) and one of the things that struck me while listening to radio stations from Dominica is the number of advertisements for businesses pushing high-saturated fat foods and alcoholic drinks. Now, I have to say that these ads are not just a carnival phenomenon. In fact, I think they’ve become quite prevalent on our airwaves. For example, one show might be sponsored by a large distributor of alcoholic beverages. Usually within such shows, the hosts painstakingly tells listeners to ‘drink safely’ and ‘don’t drink and drive’. What I noticed about these messages is that they are often said in somber tones while the music pumps up for a lively discussion of how such and such drink is the best to have while out and about. In regards to the food ads with high-fat content, they are often lauded as quick meals to have on-the-go. Grab a pizza! Get yourself some tasty fired chicken!
These commercials reminded me of a fabulous blog I read a few months ago titled “Is fried chicken setting back development in the Caribbean?” In the write-up, Carmen and Shiyan discuss how, in trying to decide what to eat for lunch (fried chicken because it’s ubiquitous, low-cost and fast), they realized the irony of working on addressing non-communicable diseases in the region and having to swallow their guilt and eat the fried chicken for lunch.
Carmen and Shiyan write:
“This simple encounter brought to light the challenges countries and individuals face in addressing NCDs which as a group represent the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide –two-thirds of global deaths are the result of chronic diseases. In the Caribbean, the burden of NCDs has escalated to the point that five times as many people are dying from chronic diseases than from all other illnesses combined.”
As we in the region and organizations around the world fight to change the course of the burden of NCDs, we have to start thinking of what role, if any, does advertising play in our food and alcohol consumption choices? Are there any regional or national policies that regulate what companies can advertise and at what times? The regulation of food, alcohol ( and tobacco) is never an easy task. But, research shows that local and global policies developed to regular tobacco sales and use has had the greatest impact on lowering smoking rates. If anyone has examples of laws and policies from the region that address these issues, we at CaribbeanHealth.org would love to know about them.