Child obesity and the cost of living

| 08/09/2016 | 24 Comments

Cayman News ServiceMM writes: Nice, we can all see that election is right around the corner. The notices are pouring in to parents from the public schools about all the great intervention programmes that are now being passed down from the Ministry of Education; and our premier himself has stepped out prompting us parents to pay better attention to our children’s unhealthy eating habits and to ensure they have adequate nutrition in their diets because of his grave concern with the obesity levels.

We are encourage to provide more fruits and veggies, less sugary foods and healthier drinks/juices; but what Mr Premier has forgotten is that not all parents make a politician’s salary each month.

You can go to the supermarket and pay less than $3 for a sugar-loaded, artificially coloured, packed with nothing but preservatives and chemicals 8-pack of “juice” cleverly marketed in bright packaging with happy cartoon characters gulping it down. However, right beside that 8-pack is the 100%, sometimes organic, healthier choice, 8-pack juice going for $6-$8.

Let’s face it now, the majority of children on this island do not have parents who can afford to consistently maintain a healthy array of food within their home when most people on this island survive on Ramen noodles and IGA products (or whatever the next brand of cheaper, chemical and preservative packed brand may be).

It is a common complaint that the prices in the supermarkets continue to rise as we observe the new shopping carts coming in and new, more energy-efficient refrigerated storage units being installed. Somebody has to pay for it and businesses can feel the pinch of high prices too.

However, I am sure if we all truly consider when we all began to notice that our grocery bills were doubling although our list was very similar to the one we have always written – this noticeable rise in prices happened around the time that our sitting government coined their 232 page Custom’s Tariff Law, which has been revised each year since 2014.

This seems to be the most revised law in the Cayman Islands and yet we still cannot get a proper landlord and tenancy law going. The government must have realised it is far easier to continue to squeeze income from persons and companies importing items than from chasing the millions of delinquent garbage collection bills and unpaid residential lease stamp duties, amongst other things.

To put things in to perspective; let’s consider a few of the items that are all duty free – and take some time to REALLY think about who is benefiting from them.

So, items that remain duty free (even in this day and age when every penny counts and every added percentage can literally kill): perfume, leather, coffee, to get started lightly.

Drinking glasses and other items of lead crystal are 0%, natural and/or cultured pearls are 0%, diamonds and precious stones are 12%, non-monetary and monetary bullion is 0%, most items of silver/gold/platinum are 12%, gold coin and precious metals are 0%, sunglasses and cameras are 0%.

Wrist watches of precious metal (a.k.a. Rolex, etc) are all 7% duty.

Wool and silk are also at 12%. Really now?

And of course there are useful articles that also have the advantage of being 0% like children’s books, yarn, educational reference books, items particular to farming and feeding farm animals; but overall, I do not know anyone who can live without food.

X-ray machines, most dental equipment, artificial teeth, examination tables and chairs, breathing appliances and masks, syringes with or without needles, other medical equipment are at 22%.

Children’s and babies’ clothing, shoes, blankets and most toys are at 22% (so remember that the next time you want to pass out over the prices in our local children/baby stores).

Now – compare the necessity of those low duty and no duty items to things like Kiwi, pineapple, apricots, prunes, apples, coconuts, bananas, dates, figs, avocados, guavas, grapefruit, raisins, pretty much any and all fruits and veggies, as well as walnuts, cashews and other nuts, which all attract customs duty at 17% to 22%. And we wonder why it costs an arm and a leg to buy healthy, fresh foods.

Please see pages 24-29 of the Customs Tariff (2016) Law.

I am not sure how familiar with customs duty the broader public is but the duty is calculated on the cost of the produce in addition to whatever the shipping charge was. So for supermarkets shipping in thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables per month, 22% is a pretty hefty percentage to absorb. Therefore, this cost must be shifted to the consumer in order to run an efficient business.

So, let’s say Supermarket A spends … (I have no clue what their real costs must be like, most likely even higher than this). So, moving on.

Supermarket A spends a total of $175,000 per month shipping in fresh fruits and vegetables, for a total of $2.1 million per year. 22% of that cost must be paid to government totalling $462,000 per year or $38,500 per month.

And we are wondering why buying a cart full of groceries can cost a small fortune, especially when we attempt to go organic. And now parents are being side-lined by political messages emphasizing the importance of healthy eating for our children!

And yet, Perfume Shop A imports $2.1 million per year in fragrances and pays absolutely not one red cent to government. Who is REALLY benefitting? And I do not want to hear the excuse that our duty free perfume attracts thousands of tourists because the direct government income from tourism does not come near what government receives from imports. In addition to that, ‘they’ want to rail the excuse that our tourism encourages investment and development and clients to financial services.

First of all, most of the financial services high net worth clientele have never and do not want to ever bother to even fly to Cayman. What for? And how is the tourism development helping when government consistently waives millions of dollars worth of stamp duty whenever someone promises they “employ Caymanians”.

I remember (and the newspaper articles are online) the Ritz continuously threw out that line and they are now one of the top employers of work permit holders. So please, hold the nonsense.

So our government waives duties for billionaire investors and casts the burden on our families (at least in my opinion).

And yet, if we take a browse through this 232 page document, it will open your eyes to the reality that the government truly does dictate the standard of living maintained by all who reside on these islands, as they divert our attention in other directions with expressions just as those found within the premier’s recent address of concern over the obesity and health of our children.

It does not take a rocket scientist to compare the supermarket pricing with the cost of duty within each category. We should all be aware that you can get a good-sized bag of flour for less than $3; the cost of duty is 0%. And this is one example amidst thousands.

You can also get oats, rice, some cereals, corn starch, margarine, lard, sugar, colouring of various sorts, cocoa powder containing added sugar or not containing added sugar, chocolate coated breakfast cereals, uncooked pasta, mixes and dough at very reasonable prices in the supermarkets – all of these attract 0% customs duty.

And if anyone out there is familiar with the supermarket prices or their frequently on-sale items, foods which fall into the duty categories of which I have listed are significantly cheaper and show up with the green flags or within the newspaper inserts very often.

Is this not evidence that the customs duty (which was once between 10% and 20%, at some points lower) is truly what is dictating whether families (especially lower income families) are able to provide healthy alternatives for meals?

Not only does this affect the family, it also affects the preschools, nurseries, primary schools, high schools, restaurants, and so forth; which is why to eat healthily on this island has become a privilege and restaurants who offer healthy items are considered a luxury. The produce must be priced in a manner that the seller considers total cost, purchase, shipping, 22% customs and, of course, a margin for profit and the likelihood that a good portion of the produce will rot before being sold.

Of course, we are all drilled to feel that since we have no other taxes, we should shut up, sit down and be grateful, but the reality is that for a tax-free country, we are still listed as one of the countries in the world with the most expensive cost of living.

And with a minimum wage of $6 per hour ($960 per month at 40 hours per week), how can anyone turn a blind eye to the precise root cause of why we must pay an arm and a leg for groceries on this island, or rather, healthy grocery choices on this island? And on Cayman Brac the prices are even higher and there are people feeling the pinch.

So, with all due respect to our ‘leaders’, you are all obviously too well-paid and far too comfortable to truly understand what is happening in the lives of most of your constituents and the people who insist on electing you term after term after term on the promise that they too will one day be able to afford to provide healthy meal alternatives to their families.

This comment was posted on the article Premier worried about obesity rate in local kids

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Comments (24)

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  1. Annie says:

    If you don’t buy junk food you can make your dollar stretch much further. Buy the big bag of frozen chicken from Cost U Less, add a big bag of brown rice from Fosters, add some veg from Kirk’s or Hurley’s and you are good.

    Check the sales, plan your meals, and buy in bulk. I made it through the recession on less than $50 per week, for a family of four. But you have to put some work in. Also fruit trees are helpful.

  2. Charles says:

    A very well put together paper. You forgot to add that because of the high costs of doing business on the island there are two extremities employers are taking measures to make their business profitable. They are either breaking the laws by not paying pension, health insurances and salaries for their employees and the other side is they have cut benifits for their employees and have mandated to work 14 – 15 hour work day. Put this in perspective, the island is so expensive that a good parent cannot be a parent. We are on that hamster wheel to meet the bills, meet the employers expectations and meet government’s high standard of living. We are in such a bad state and the government can only boat that we got nice roads!!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry but you lost me with your opening example. Fruit juice is only marginally better for kids than soda (and only because it isn’t loaded with synthetic chemicals). Both are loaded with unnecessary sugar.

    If you want a healthy drink that costs less gallon for gallon then give them watered down juice. Half the sugar/cost and a bit of flavor. This is basically all Capri Sun and similar drinks are anyway.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly what I was going to say. Juice is sugar. Organic juice is organic sugar. Stop giving kids sugar so they will do what you want.

    • Anonymous says:

      In the Caribbean COCONUT juice must be a staple-what can be more healthy? And you are right,fruit juices from the bottle are no different from soda.
      How many coconuts get wasted while everyone is complaining of high cost of living?
      Moringa drink anyone? It does grow on Grand Cayman. All nutrition you need is present in Moringa tree leaves.

    • Anonymous says:

      I totally agree… I don’t even buy juice for my kids…it’s bad for them. .. I use a lemon that costs 69 cents and squeeze in some water…. junk food can be just as expensive as being healthy trust me… a box of oatmeal goes way further than a 6 buck box of sugar cereal. Junk food is convenient. … cook stuff…stop buying packed junk. If your cabinet is full of chips and crap…that’s on you….

  4. MM says:

    I must continue my “tirade” as commenter ’09/09/2016 at 7:40 am’ considers my post to be because it strikes out with some real facts about what is actually going on in the Cayman Islands, I almost wonder if that poster is one of her MLAs. Anyway, I do not like to make assumptions, I like to find some “backative” as we like to call evidence here in Cayman.

    According to the Cayman Islands ESO (Economics and Statistics Office) the total Government revenue for 2015 was $814.4 million. The highest category of earnings was of course our financial services industry at $234.9 million for financial services licenses alone.

    However, our second highest earning item which falls in the ‘import duties’ category was $96.3 million listed as “other import duties”… gasoline imports only raked in $20+ million and income from cruise passengers was a depressing $10 million. Work permits rose to $78 million in 2015.

    It would appear that the powers that be take the easy way out in order to increase this country’s income and provide joe public with their bright and shining “progressive” income figures and few community members take the time to drill in to these to realize exactly whose blood is being sucked in order to achieve this.

    The total income from imports for 2015 was $172 million. Now believe me I am all for the government making a good income, but it is time to get it from where it can be gotten.

    Million dollar, waterfront, seven mile beach properties attracting the same 7.5% transfer duty that a young, professional family would pay for a comfortable $485,000 home? Would it really hurt the rich man’s pockets to go to 9%? It used to be 12.5%!

    Instead of forcing a 22% tax on fruits and vegetables, why not start at a minimum 5% tax across the board and raise each item from there taking in to consideration its necessity, who is affected, its availability, the end price that we would want to see those items going for on-island (as in no more 0% duty on gold, pearls, gemstones, etc) – would that hurt the Kirkconnell’s jewelry and perfume chains to much?

    Most would understand that the more people are able to save, the more they will actually spend. If prices for consumer products are reasonable here on island, who is going to jump a flight to get them elsewhere?

    What an island we could have when school caterers could afford to provide healthy lunches and families could go to the supermarkets in confidence. How much more would the stores import if they new they were getting a good price on duty instead of a quarter of the cost of their produce going to Government for much needed items?

    How about raising the cost of work permits for directors and firm partners/attorneys who earn sometimes $300,000 per year from $16,000? These firms also have billions and each associate or partner rakes in hundreds of thousands per month for the firm.

    No, it is much easier to steal from the little man on the street than the big boys in the offices.

    All I am saying is that the expenses for running this country can be fairly distributed according to who can actually foot the bill instead of taking the easy way out.

    I have absolutely no trouble going to any supermarket and filling up carts; but I know MANY people, friends and family who do, and many of the people who can’t do not even understand what is affecting them. Everyone just thinks the storeowners are crooked, the supermarkets are overpriced, the baby stores are a rip-off; people are not informed and we have allowed our officials to operate in the darkness for too long and they themselves may not even realize what they are going to the most vulnerable in our society.

    Link to Gov fiscal operations –

    *errors and omissions accepted because I am not about to read this over right now*

    • Anonymous says:

      I like when my posts are challenged. And no, I am not “one of her MLAs”. I am not going to argue with you, you are right, this country kids could easily afford FREE lunches had the money were managed properly.

      Still, The government doesn’t stand in the way of your personal choices. You can eat healthy on a budget.

      • Anonymous says:

        Tell that to the families with the kids eating from the garbage – yes, they exist in Cayman. Forget the adults, it is obvious that the adults are hopeless in these situations, but the poor little kids! And the cycle will continue like it always has and it keeps getting worst.

  5. Anonymous says:

    So out a massive import duty on sugar in products.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Great commentary! What people have to realize is that God did not intend for everyone to look alike. That is why he made some skinny, some fat – he wanted each person to be an individual.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yikes. Great excuse for not eating healthy and exercising – God made me fat!

      Perhaps. And he also made you die young. Go figure.

  7. anonymous says:

    While the featured comment has some valid points, it is the usual victimhood attutude-someone else is respobsible…..for all my misfortunes.
    Neither Premier nor the author are offering any solutions.
    Were Caymanian kids and adults obese 50-70 years ago? No? How did they do that? What did they eat?
    To reduce import,grow produce locally. It is a shame that farming is scarce in the Cayman Islands. Learn from The Brasserie how it is being done. Look into farm-to-school programs, community gardens in the USA. Do something. Stop making excuses. You and only you is responsible for being obese. Your government doesn’t force you to eat romen noodles. There are plenty of healthy and very cheap grains in the supermarkets if you can afford nothing else. Oats for example, not the precooked one from the box, the real oats which you need to cook. Millet and barley are cheap as dirt. While you might not maintain health for long on grains only, you won’t be obese. Everyone can grow herbs in their home or apartment to supplement nutrition. You can eat healthy on a budget.
    As for your tirade…..
    You don’t really understand the economics of government. The government does continue to function. There are advantages to its functioning. Your government does provide some valuable stability.
    No matter who is elected, your life is always pretty much the same. Your decisions affect your life much more than theirs do. The government doesn’t stand in the way of your personal choices
    So change your attitude and assume responsibility for your own and your kids waistlines.
    This is ALL you can do.

    • MM says:

      50-70 years ago most mothers stayed home; the population was less than 30,000 and most people did not work 9-5 and so were able to maintain home gardens and farm animals.

      The Brasserie is a restaurant making an amazing amount of income; their produce is grown and their salads still cost more per pound than the supermarkets. They also have full time staff to deal with it.

      Some time ago a few schools did begin keeping gardens; but you obviously do not realize the time and work that must go in to such things. Do you suggest that the children skip lessons and garden all day? However, if the government wanted they could hire one or two full-time gardeners to maintain the crops and allow the older children to assist a few hours each week in order to learn. I find that learning to grow food would be more valuable than some of the other items on the national curriculum.

      And you imply that I do not understand the government’s economics; are you suggesting that it is okay to have no tax and lower tax on luxury items and okay to tax the people 22% for food??? Are you suggesting that waiving an excess of 30 million dollars for a multi-billion dollar development aimed at the wealthy is taking in to account all lives residing in this country? There are numerous income-earning items that the Government does not touch because they do not want to offend the ultimate beneficiary of the costs, like the ridiculous $5,000 fee charged to super wealth clientele to pursue their cases in the financial services court division. I do believe that if anyone is misinformed it would be you.

      Well, I would hope the Government continues to function for obviously a country without a functioning government is dang near non-existent – many things can ‘function’… the question is, how well?

      I think the post went completely over your head to be honest.

    • Anonymous says:

      The comment did name a solution in the form of waiving duty on healthy food options. This would help to drive people toward purchasing healthier food. Brasserie is a bad example because they spent a lot of money so that they can cultivate the amount of healthy food it needs to run their business. No one single family could afford what is needed to cultivate organic vegetables. Not to mention, a lot of the land here is not suitable for the growth of fruit and vegetables.

      Government does need to do something about making healthy food options more affordable. Many people would rather buy the cheaper, sugar laden unhealthy food because it is noticeably cheaper and still fills their stomachs.

  8. RegularVisitortoCayman says:

    We visited this summer and cannot believe how expensive the cost of everything has become. I am not sure how anyone outside the elite can afford to live. If you want to understand how poor your elected representatives and civil service is, then take a trip to Rum Point and visit the latest wreck. Cayman is build on tourism – people visit for the natural beauty not the jewelry or rum cake. The boat that that sits on the amazing shallow bay at Rum Point has been there since May 2016 (our first visit) and now is a sunken wreck (September 2016) polluting the seas and risking injury and damage to any visitors to the location. How can the Cayman elected officials (who you can see there on their expensive private boats) and the civil service (department for environment and police – who patrol there daily) not have taken immediate action to protect their MOST valuable asset? Maybe because the beach and seas have no profit generation power compared to the companies they all hold ownership’s in?

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve seen that wreck, its been there since May?! That’s pretty disturbing that it hasn’t yet been cleared away…

  9. James Gunner says:

    Based on the extravagant revenue that the Cayman Islands government brings in every year there should be ZERO duty on food. There should at least be zero duty on basics such as bread and milk. It is disgusting how Cayman can continue to turn a blind eye to the high cost of food which affects everyone including its own people. There is more than enough revenue to remove this expense. Quit subsidizing turtle meat and you would be at a break even.

  10. Skinny twat says:

    I consider myself fortunate that my parents had a “if ya don’t eat ya dinna, ya don’t get no puddin” rule in their house.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the amount of duty, how else are the government going to pay for the bloated, inefficient civil service? Especially those who are on “required leave” for years on end. I must say I find the latest commercials from the PPM stating that they have reduced the cost of living by 2.2% somewhat amusing, obviously they don’t shop for groceries. Another thing, why does a small Island with a population of approx. 60,000 people need 7-9 supermarkets? What town of similar size in North America or Europe can boast of such an embarrassment of riches? Can you imagine what all their locations adds to Foster’s operating costs? Which of course are passed on to the consumer. Also don’t get me started on the overpriced, mostly very average, restaurants with their grossly overpriced wines (especially by the glass). That’s for another day !!

    • Cheese Face says:

      Really, having a go at supermarkets for having more than one loaction? Do you want to drive to West Bay to shop if you live in East End? I would love to hear you thoughts if only one company was selling food? Do you like that we have one power provider?

      And if you don’t like the restaurants in Cayman and think the wine is over priced, stay home, it’s not rocket science.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well said!!

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