With a population of just 1.4 million people, Trinidad and Tobago is ranked as one of the world’s leading countries in the consumption of sugary beverages.
The average adult in T&T consumes around 99 litres of sugary drinks each year.
These were among the findings of a recent study done by The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Health Economics Unit (HEU), in collaboration with the Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy (IECS) in Argentina.
The project research team was led by HEU director Dr Althea La Foucade, and consisted of Vyjanti Beharry, Samuel Gabriel, Dr Kimberly-Ann Gittens-Baynes, Dr Christine Laptiste and Charmaine Metivier.
The study determined that the economic cost of sugary beverages on the country is significant, with approximately $156 million (1.37 per cent of T&T’s yearly investment in health care) being spent in the public healthcare system annually to treat diseases associated with excessive consumption of sugary beverages.
62 per cent in T&T overweight
“Of this amount, approximately $13 million was estimated for the treatment of overweight and obesity (in childhood, adolescence and adulthood for both sexes),” the study said. “The majority, $143 million, was associated with the treatment of diabetes, cardiovascular and renal disease, musculoskeletal disorders, cancer and other conditions, which may be associated with the excessive consumption of sugary drinks.”
The study also noted that 62 per cent of people in T&T are overweight or obese while 12 per cent of T&T citizens are type 2 diabetic.
It said around 387 people are likely to die from complications linked to consuming too many sugary drinks.
The researchers recommended the implementation of a tax of at least 20 per cent on the prices of sugar-sweetened beverages, which it said would bring about a 13 per cent to 22.5 per cent decrease in consumption.
The research project was funded by the International Development Research Centre.
The first project activity was a two-day regional policy dialogue co-ordinated by IECS, which took place in May 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The workshop brought together 35 participants from Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Participants included representatives from the research teams from four study countries (Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago), as well as decision-makers, academicians, civil society representatives, and strategic partners from the LAC region.
Presentations were delivered by country representatives from each study country, who detailed policy measures implemented to reduce the excessive consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.
A report produced by the T&T team of researchers noted that obesity is a worldwide epidemic, with many factors contributing to its constant increase.
“Two of these are unhealthy eating habits and a lack of exercise. Sugary beverage intake is a main source of calories, with high sugar content and no other nutrients,” it said.
The researchers are hopeful that the study’s results will raise awareness about the potential impact of excessive sugar consumption on both the health system and the economy.
The project as also aimed at supporting decision-makers in the implementation of sugar-sweetened beverage control policies.
Participants from Trinidad and Tobago included representatives from the HEU, Centre for Health Economics, the Ministry of Health, and the Trinidad and Tobago Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance/The Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
Part of the research work was carried out in 2020 by investigators and healthcare decision-makers at universities, research centres, and public institutions from the four study countries.
The report said the results of the study were obtained by using a mathematical model developed by the research team.