Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Health minister moves to regulate school lunches

Published:Saturday | March 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/ Gleaner Writer
Dr Christopher Tufton

Heath minister Dr Christopher Tufton has served notice of Government's intention to regulate all food and drink offerings to children within and outside of school compounds to promote healthy eating habits and lifestyle across the country in a structured and sustained way.

This has become necessary because of the alarming increase in non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, which continue to overwhelm Jamaica's health sector, Dr Tufton told school students at the recent Jamaica Cancer Society's annual Healthy Lifestyle Youth Forum.

"We are going to guide the foods that are provided on these school premises. We are not going to be motivated by the power of marketing and marketing companies, which have a right to market," the health minister said. "It's a free market, but in the space of a school compound, students must know what they eat, know the consequences of what they eat, and indeed in some instances, we must regulate what is available, or some of what is available, in terms of what they have access to," he told applauding students at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston.

Dr Tufton has been actively involved in Jamaica Moves, a national initiative designed to raise public awareness that will lead to engagement and the building of supportive environments in parishes across Jamaica. Conceptualised by the Ministry of Health, Jamaica Moves is a response to data from the World Health Organisation that showed that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are collectively responsible for most deaths worldwide.

The objective is to reduce NCDs, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease by 25 per cent by the year 2025. Since its official launch in April last year, this concept has grown, spreading far and wide, becoming the country's first-ever coordinated national response to the increased incidence of NCDs.

Social conscience

In taking Jamaica Moves into schools, the Government will be seeking the buy-in of all stakeholders - administrators, teachers, concessionaires, canteens, and other providers of food, "whether they are in the school or out at the gate", Dr Tufton said.

In reaching out to food and drink providers now entrenched in the school system, he made this appeal: "Start applying the social conscience that we know you can develop and apply. Even while we appreciate your need for the bottom line, start applying a social conscience in developing products to support the health and well-being of our students and our population."