Ministry of Health & Social Development
Release Date:
Wednesday, 6 March 2024 - 12:20pm


Statement By The Honourable Vincent O. Wheatley

Minister For Health And Social Development

At The Ninth Sitting Of The First Session Of The Fifth House Of Assembly

Of The Virgin Islands

Tuesday, 5th March 2024


World Obesity Day

Madam Speaker, World Obesity Day was recognized on 4 March 2024 under the theme “Let’s talk about obesity and…”.  This theme invites us to engage in conversations that go beyond the numbers on a scale, urging us to explore the myriad of dimensions that obesity touches.  It challenges us to complete the sentence with understanding, compassion and a commitment to positive change.

The theme “Let’s talk about obesity and...” empowers us to have dynamic conversations at every level across the lifecycle.  The impact of obesity on Virgin Islanders is a topic that calls for our immediate attention and collective action.  Beyond the sun-kissed beaches and colorful culture, our BVI community grapples with the far-reaching consequences of obesity, a health issue that extends beyond individual well-being.  According to the country’s last assessment called the STEPS Risk Factor Survey, almost 40% of adults between the ages of 25-64 years are obese.

Madam Speaker, unfortunately, obesity is intricately woven into the fabric of our society.  Our traditions are rich in several of the risk factors that contribute to our high obesity rates. The manner in which we prepare our meals, our choices of ingredients, our portion sizes and even the beverages we consume all contribute to potential risks.

Our sedentary lifestyles also play a significant role in the high obesity rates.  Long ago our forefathers spent their days tilling the soil, walking to their destinations and eating fresh food from the ground, sea or yard.  Fast forward to today; we drive everywhere, even if it is within walking distance.  This shift in our way of living has taken a toll on our bodies, increasing our susceptibility to obesity and other non-communicable diseases.

Madam Speaker, we are even seeing the far-reaching hands of obesity at the primary school level, a 2023 school health assessment indicated that 44% of primary school children are overweight and obese.  That very scary statistic leaves us to ask the questions how and why?  In my opinion, we are becoming more dependent on processed foods, which are usually high in sugars and salt, coupled with inactivity and unhealthy choices that are pre-disposing our children to obesity at an extremely early age.

The impact Madam Speaker, is profound on our health systems, our economy, and most importantly, on the lives of our people.  Non-communicable diseases linked to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues, have become all too common, casting a shadow on the vitality of our community.

As we recognize World Obesity Day, we acknowledge that conversations are the catalyst for change.  It is time to talk openly about the impact of obesity in the Virgin Islands and envision a healthier, more resilient future for our people.  We must recognize that tackling obesity requires a multi-faceted approach.  It involves reshaping policies, promoting access to nutritious foods, and creating environments that encourage physical activity.  Equally important is the need to foster a culture of understanding and support, where individuals feel empowered to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.

At the Ministry of Health and Social Development, we are doing our part to promote awareness and prevention through our Public Health Unit.  Work is currently in progress to launch the Food Based Dietary Guidelines and the Eat Well Guide, for the Virgin Islands.  These practical tools will provide recommendations on what to eat and drink to meet our nutrient needs, promote health and prevent disease.  

Work is also underway to develop a protected food basket for the Virgin Islands, Madam Speaker.  This will ensure that even low-income households will have access to nutritious food.  Other nutrition initiatives include public education on alcohol, salt and sugar reduction as well as understanding food labels.  These initiatives will also help in the reduction of other non-communicable chronic diseases. 

We are also currently developing the Territory’s food and nutrition surveillance systems, which will help us to monitor dietary intake and the nutritional status of the population.

Madam Speaker, we are doing our part and I want to use this medium to encourage all members of this Honourable House to do your part as well. We can only look forward to a reduction in the obesity rates if we all pay attention to what we eat and our levels of physical activity.   I am sure we are all familiar with the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” well similar to that, I want to proffer that it will take an all of society approach to fix the ravishes of obesity. 

For more information on how persons can collaborate with us on this matter, they are encouraged to contact our Public Health Unit at 468-2878.

Madam Speaker, I want to thank those persons listening to this statement for their commitment to this crucial conversation. May our collective efforts lead to a healthier, happier Virgin Islands for generations to come.

Madam Speaker, I thank you.