Fri | Apr 16, 2021

HFJ pushing for front-of-package labelling to fight NCDs

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2021 | 9:48 PM- Judana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Executive Director - Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Deborah Chen (contributed photo)

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica has launched the 'Right To Know' campaign, in an effort to build support for the introduction of front of package labelling.                          
These labels allow consumers to correctly, quickly, and easily identify products that contain excessive amounts of sugar, sodium and trans fats. 

Executive Director, Deborah Chen, said Jamaica is facing an epidemic as 78 percent of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  

One in every two Jamaicans or 54 percent of the population are overweight or obese and between 2010 to 2017, obesity among children ages 13 to 15 increased by 68 percent. 

“NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability in Jamaica and continue to place a burden on our health system, our economy and families. We have to halt and reverse these worrying trends,” Chen said. 

The executive director shared that research has shown that simple front of package warning labels have been most effective in discouraging unhealthy food choices. 

“Our campaign is built around the assertion that we all have the right to know what’s in our food. Consumers have the right to information and the right to safe nutritious food,” said Chen, adding that a recent public opinion poll revealed that 92 percent of Jamaicans support front of package labelling. 

In her greetings, PAHO-WHO representative to Jamaica, Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, pointed out that being obese increases the risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 by seven times. 

For people with diabetes, they are up to three times more likely to have severe symptoms or die, while the odds for severe COVID-19 increases by 2.3 times for people with hypertension. 

Being hypertensive increases the risk of mortality from COVID-19 by 3.5 times. 

“Unhealthy eating is a major contributor to the problem of NCDs. There is widespread availability of processed and ultra processed products and an essential part of the solution to this problem must be the creation of enabling environments, including the use of regulations to reduce the imbalance in the diet caused by intake of those products,” Theodore-Gandi said. 

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, said the campaign has come at a critical time as COVID-19 has shown the vulnerability of people with NCDs. 

Tufton outlined that the proposed labels are instructive for decision making and should be readily understood by all, as there is concern for both children and adults. 

Tufton added that a study undertaken by his ministry, the University of Technology and PAHO, to examine the best performing front of package label options, is to be made available soon. 

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