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McDonalds, Pepsi and Coca Cola are personae non gratae when it comes to fundraising for public healthcare aimed at children in the twin-island republic.
Earlier this week Health Minister Fuad Khan blocked the Wendy Fitzwilliam Paediatric Hospital from accepting a TT$64,000 donation from McDonald's because of the link between the fast food industry and childhood obesity and a number of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.
Speaking in the House of Representatives in Port of Spain, Khan disclosed that Trinidad and Tobago had also refused to accept $10,000 from soft drink manufacturers Pepsi and Coca Cola to replace some exercise equipment, while other Caribbean countries did.
"We have to protect our children and we have to decide, if we want to make sure that our children grow healthy and they don't have the expense in the future, of kidney problems, et cetera," Khan said.
He said there was a direct correlation between increasing obesity in the population, including alarming rates among children and adolescent, and the consumption of fast foods.
He said the correct mixture of salts, sugars and fats (especially when combined with flavour enhancers such as MSG,) created a "serious food addiction", similar to addictive drugs, alcohol or nicotine.
“Mr Speaker if you mix the consumption of salt, sugar and fat in incorrect proportions then what you create is food addiction. It is similar to when you take an addictive drug or alcohol: what you have is a concoction of items that also produce serious food addiction,” he said.
Khan said said he was shocked to see a media picture last week of McDonald's "Chief Happiness Officer Ronald McDonald", a clown, announcing that McDonald's had donated US$10,000 to the hospital.
"I would be writing to the Foundation (to instruct) that no money from these fast food enterprises should reach Mount Hope Children's Hospital," he declared.
The Health Minister said that while Government was "very glad for foreign direct investment", it was not happy to see a McDonald's clown inside the paediatric ward, marketing the company and engaging in "subliminal advertising".
Khan told reporters afterward that he noted a trend of fast food outlets marketing their products which tend to contain additives in paediatric wards.
“You could do it with adults if you want but don’t do that to children or go on to children’s wards. If they want to put the money directly to the Ministry of Health we have no problems but don’t go directly to the children’s wards.”
Noting that Trinidad and Tobago had the highest rate of diabetes in the Caribbean, Khan said the combined economic burden of diabetes and hypertension in Trinidad was over TT$500 million a year.