Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Letter of the Day | Crime, violence and hunger

Published:Wednesday | December 8, 2021 | 12:07 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his address at the November 2021 JLP annual conference, as reported in the media, stated that “technically, we do not have a crime problem ... what we really have is a violence problem”.

This begs the question: why then are we only treating the issue of crime and not also of violence?

Time and again, credible scientific researchers have postulated that the underlying causes of violence are multifaceted and have recommended appropriate strategies for curbing the increasing rise in violence.

The relationship of nutrition to poor mental health and violence has been highlighted in earlier projects of the Ministry of Education, including the New Horizons for primary schools (NHP 1999-2005), which demonstrated the positive effect of regular breakfast programmes on improving academic performance and temperament, thereby reducing the degree of violence at the primary school level. Hopefully, the new report commissioned by Professor Orlando Patterson would have drawn on this previous data.

The Government has given some support to school breakfast programmes but limited scope and lack of professional nutrition guidance and monitoring has reduced the anticipated effects. Dr Herbert Gayle has often linked ‘hunger and violence’, especially in the vulnerable age group for boys.

During the summer of 2020, the Jamaica Island Nutrition Network (JINN) conducted nutrition screening in six inner-city schools involved in a summer camp of the Ministry of National Security, and determined a high level of malnutrition (16 per cent) in grades 5 and 6 students. The camp targeted communities said to be “riddled with gang violence and high levels of school dropouts (usually at adolescence to join gangs)”.

Research measurements revealed underweight for height (equivalent term for hunger) at 7.4 per cent and overweight at 8.7 per cent. Of significance, the underweight was mostly in boys who outnumbered girls by 3.5 times, but overweight in girls outnumbered that in boys by four times.

BETTER SCHOOL NUTRITION PROGRAMMES

The discrepancy between boys and girls shows that school feeding needs better targeting and parenting education to include nutrition needs at different age groups for the sexes.

Government policy that makes available professional nutrition intervention in school communities would be a welcome strategy and is highly recommended by the international community. This would include one-on-one parent/student education on feeding children appropriately at different ages as a strategy towards mitigating the serious problems of obesity and underweight (hunger in some populations). This could also benefit the state of violence involving youth in Jamaica together with other social interventions.

Schoolchildren must be healthy in order to learn and perform optimally. Data from the USA indicate that the schoolchildren who benefited from the continued school feeding programmes during the lockdown months of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated better mental health and expressed that they had better coping skills when faced with violence and abuse.

The Government of Jamaica ought to make nutrition management and hunger prevention a priority for our school system by re-engineering its approach to school feeding and education.

PATRICIA THOMPSON

Registered Nutritionist

School Nutrition Specialist

Jamaica Island Nutrition

Network