Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Tackling diet a matter of life and death

Published:Friday | July 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Interestingly enough, the attention on chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by health professionals in the Caribbean has been increasingly more inclusive of factors in our industrial environment.

Unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. The Caribbean has the highest rate of non-communicable diseases in America. It is most likely that more people are dying of unhealthy diets, lack of activity, smoking, and drinking alcohol than by violence.

Professor Fitzroy Henry of the University of Technology has noted that overweight and obesity rates among adults have moved from 45% in 2002 to 60% in 2016, in Jamaica. He noted that Jamaican children are among the world's top consumers of soda. To quote him "75% of boys between the ages 15-17 drink more than one (1) soda per day" (Daily Observer, March 29, 2017). The WHO data shows that the average can of sugary drink contain 10 teaspoons of sugar, whereas the recommended intake is 6 teaspoons per day.

The evaluation report of the 2009 CARICOM Heads of Governments Port of Spain Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) Summit states that the soft drink issue is one of the main contributors to the increased risks for NCDs. Of great interest is the fact that in the Financial Gleaner of July 14, 2017, an article stated that Jamaica is the top-performing market in Latin America of a particular brand of soft drink.




Our processed food, drink, cigarette and alcohol industries are a critical part of the global and local economy and a source of significant employment, investment and doubtlessly charity. Yet they are now deemed part of the environmental component of the health risk formula.

Even where healthy lifestyles are encouraged, how does one strike a balance between this and the strong advertisements from industry? The ease of access to their products is often greater than access to fresh agricultural produce, which is correctly promoted for healthy eating.

The Gleaner editorial of March 30, 2017 stated that "the producers of sugary drinks, a large proportion of whose consumers who are children, especially need to be at the table. The issues demand a new national conversation, inclusive of industries whose foods contribute to negative health effects, especially among children. Increasingly, countries are imposing levies on the products of such industries that can be avoided by reducing sugar content". The editorial wisely encourages that "opening a dialogue on the matter is better than unilateral state action".

The cards are on the table. Is health to become a matter of adversarialism or cooperation between Government, along with civil society and private industry? Much careful discussion, thinking and innovative action will be needed. We await the outcome as it is a matter of life and death.