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Health Minister Hails UTech Healthy Eating Campaign

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, has hailed the University of Technology’s (UTech) healthy eating campaign as a welcome fillip to the Government’s efforts to encourage healthy lifestyle among Jamaicans in order to reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD).

“It augurs well and it is well aligned with the policies and objectives of my Ministry,” he said at the launch on Wednesday, July 21, at UTech’s Papine campus in St. Andrew.

UTech’s ‘Healthy Eating in Jamaica’ campaign is designed to empower citizens to make more informed and healthier food choices.

The initiative, which involves partnership with Nestlé Jamaica Limited and the Consumer Affairs Commission, aims to reverse the trend of improper nutrition, which is a major contributing factor to ill health among Jamaicans.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalise the partnership was signed by the parties at the launch.

“I am particularly pleased that the institution and its partners have identified healthy eating as a major area of focus. I’m extremely happy that we are united to confront this challenge, as unhealthy diets are among the four major behavioural risk factors for NCDs,” Dr. Fenton Ferguson said.

He noted that 70 per cent of adult Jamaicans are dying annually from NCD for which tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are the major risk factors.

He informed further that low and middle-income countries like Jamaica are witnessing the fastest rise in overweight persons, particularly children.

Citing statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Ferguson noted that 38 million people die each year due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, and almost three-quarters of all NCD deaths occur in low and middle-income countries such as Jamaica. Additionally, 16 million NCD deaths occur before the age of 70.

“These statistics are staggering and the situation is no different here in Jamaica.  Non-communicable diseases remain very high within the population and may be increasing,” he said.

Dr. Ferguson said the Government has stepped up its drive to educate citizens on healthy lifestyle choices and influence behavioural change.

In addition, through initiatives such as the National Strategic and Action Plan for the Prevention of Non-Communicable Disease 2013-2018, the Government is targeting a 25 per cent reduction of NCDs by 2025.

The plan outlines strategies to address food security, the provision of healthy food in schools and other public institutions; promotion of fruit and vegetable intake; addressing industrially produced trans fats in foods; and the control of advertising of unhealthy food to children.

In addition, the Minister noted that the health promotion budget for this financial year has been increased from $20 million to $200 million, to focus aggressively on a sustained public education programme and to move forward with the implementation of the strategic plan.

The Government also recently launched the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines, which seek to provide consumer information that will improve nutritional well-being and food consumption for improved health.

Acting President of UTech, Ambassador Hon. Burchell Whiteman, noted that the UTech shares the concern relating to nutrition-related health problems, particularly obesity and non-communicable lifestyle diseases.

“As a nation, we must do everything to educate our citizens and encourage healthy choices,” he said.

The campaign was prompted by research conducted by the College of Health Sciences, to determine the importance of food cost in securing a healthy diet to combat NCDs.

The MoU will also serve to facilitate student capacity building and further research.

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