I was shocked to read this week that the most obese children in the world are in the United States of America, Mexico and the Canary Islands, which is seen as a micro culture representing the highest obesity levels in Europe. The Canary Islands are the first region in Spain to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation that a 20 per cent increase in the price of ‘guilty products’ will help to save lives by raising awareness.
These statistics are frightening and I recall writing about this issue when we first moved to the Canary Islands. I could not understand why, in the village where we lived, there were so many grossly overweight people and, in particular, children. As well as enormously overweight adults, it was also clear that many adults were suffering from mobility and joint problems, leg ulcers, diabetes and many other ailments associated with obesity. There were at that time, and still are, many children who demonstrate acute obesity levels from a very young age.
The Government of the Canary Islands have announced a new tax that is designed to save lives. The new sugar tax will be applied to food and drink that contain sugar, in an effort to persuade residents to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks and food. Of course, there are always pros and cons in arguments related to taxation, with one side claiming that the tax will assist in improving health outcomes, whilst the other side talk about taxing those who can least afford it.
In a wet and cold climate, I can understand why many children and teenagers will prefer to stay indoors to play computer games, but in the Canarian climate there can be no such excuses. There are plenty of outdoor activities easily and freely available to encourage children to participate in an outdoor and physically active life. There are indoor and outdoor swimming pools, football pitches and a well-equipped sports centre in the village, and as it is close to the sea, there are always beach activities available. Many Canarian families have the use of small fishing boats, which can also be a strenuous physical activity.
Of course, in these days of political correctness, very few people face the real issues of being overweight, which is that we eat too much of the wrong kind of food and drink, or simply devour too much of everything. Instead, many ‘experts’ trot out platitudes that the issue may be due to “genetic reasons”, but I doubt that the early settlers of the islands and the ancestors of many local people, the Guanches, were as grossly overweight as current generations. Being “big boned” is another excuse that I often hear, as well as thyroid problems, which can be a problem for some older people, but is quite rare in children. It seems that excuses are always freely available when it comes to obesity, because many of us are simply addicted to sugar.
On occasions when I am passing the local school at the end of the school day, I see parents waiting for their young offspring to appear from the classrooms. The first thing that most parents do after greeting their child, is to hand over a large bag of crisps, sweets or a giant bottle of cola. Teenagers in our local shop can be seen after school focussed upon buying super large bottles of fizzy drinks, chocolate, biscuits and cakes. In the supermarket, trolleys are laden with bottles of fizzy drinks, biscuits, cakes and sweets, but I rarely see equally generous helpings of fruit and vegetables being loaded into trolleys.
Current statistics tell us that 1.5 million Canarian residents are overweight, which includes 760,000 who are classified as obese. This, in turn, contributes to the highest death rate from heart attack in all of Spain. The new sugar tax is being criticised by many, yet Canary Islands’ residents are leading the world for all the wrong dietary reasons.
Education is also important here too, since many Canarian residents need help to encourage them to eat and drink more healthy options. Many local people simply do not know that processed foods include hidden added sugars, such as glucose or fructose, which are found in soups, yogurts and soft drinks. It is hoped that, given time, this new sugar tax will help to change attitudes and that these appalling statistics will be reduced.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney