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Stakeholders, gov't team up to fight lifestyle diseases

Published:Thursday | March 30, 2017 | 3:00 AMPaul Clarke

There is broad consensus around the Ministry of Health's newest initiative: the National Food Industry Task Force which is aimed at engaging the food industry with health and other sectors of government and civil society as it expedites programmes to tackle obesity and non-communicable diseases in Jamaica.

This comes against the background of a ban on sodas sold in public schools in Trinidad and Tobago and subsequent backing from health minister Christopher Tufton, who suggested a similar course of action if he gets approval from Cabinet.

Tufton said that the 15-member National Food Industry Task Force would be charged to formulate strategies that can improve the dietary landscape and contribute to the reduction of the burden of non-communicable diseases in Jamaica.

"The purpose of this task force will be to provide support to the Ministry of Health in the promotion of healthy eating behaviours in the population," said Tufton.

"There is an urgent need to determine the composition of foods in the local market. The time has come for Jamaica to act, and the time is now," added Tufton.

Task Force Chairman Fitzroy Henry, professor of public health nutrition at the University of Technology, discussed the challenge being experienced in Jamaica in relation to the burgeoning obesity problem.

"This task force and the activity of the task force is what we feel could be the single most important set of actions that can help to prevent obesity and non-communicable diseases in Jamaica," Henry said.

... Digging our graves with our teeth

Using statistics to paint a dismal picture of the chronic obesity and other lifestyle-related illnesses in Jamaica, Henry said that the business sector has a key role in advancing the position of task the force in pursuit of its targets.

He said that approximately 67 per cent of deaths in Jamaica are directly linked to types of food consumed.

"When we look at the Caribbean figures for the last decade, we see how obesity is increasing exponentially, with females more than males, but the men are fast catching up, and that is not good," he warned.

Forty-five per cent of adults in Jamaica suffered from obesity in the year 2000. That number increased sharply by 2008, with a 53 per cent obesity rate, while in 2016, approximately 60 per cent of adult Jamaicans were deemed obese.

"Being overweight is the most important leading cause of death in Jamaica," said Henry.

The first draft of the report is expected to be in the hands of Tufton in under two months.