Multi-sectoral approach needed to tackle obesity, says doctor

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter mundlet@jamaicoabserver.com

Friday, January 27, 2012

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THERE is urgent need for a multi-sectoral approach to ensure the availability of healthy foods to tackle Jamaica's growing problem of obesity.


The observation was made by Dr Fitzroy Henry, director of the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute at the University of the West Indies.


"People can only eat what is available and what they can afford and normally what they can afford is what is not healthy," said Dr Henry.


He was speaking Wednesday at a function at Guardian Life in New Kingston to launch Heart Month, which will be observed in February under the theme 'Healthy Nutrition — Are you eating your way to the grave?'


Equally, Dr Henry said there needed to be policy changes so that the population will move from where it is now — below the required dietary intake — to where it needs to be.


"We therefore must impact availability, accessibility and consumption," Dr Henry stressed said.


As such, he said the fight against obesity and other chronic must involve all the necessary stakeholders so that Jamaicans can access healthier foods at cheaper rates more easily.


"If we can do something about obesity then we would be addressing most of the other health problems — cancer, stroke, heart diseases," Dr Henry emphasised.


Meantime, he said that in addition to the other approaches that have already been taken such as health staff training, public education, and efforts to effect behavioural changes, there needs to be more regulation and standards as well as fiscal incentives.


According to the noted doctor, obesity affects far more Jamaican women than men. He said with 53 per cent of Jamaica's women obese, the country is ranked 14th on the 2011 World Health Organisation list of countries with the highest levels of overweight females.


Added to that, he said based on the trends in diabetes mortality by gender in the Caribbean, more females have died from the disease when compared to men.


Childhood obesity, he said, is also a major challenge given the types of unhealthy foods children consume in and out of school.


Meantime, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, who officially launched Heart Month, committed to have ongoing consultation on the issue and to seek partners and funding to implement preventatives programmes. He also promised to work on the National Nutrition Policy.


The minister, while commending the work of the Heart Foundation, said his ministry will be focusing on primary health care through its eight-point plan that includes free primary health care, financing community-based healthy lifestyle initiatives through the National Health Fund, improving diagnostic services in the medium and long term, and modernising primary health care facilities.




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