Eat well, exercise or be publicly fat-shamed!

Franklin Johnston

Friday, March 09, 2018

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The fast-food industry spends billions to convince us we have no time to make a meal, so dine with them! It's business, but our naivety by miseducation means we are obese. We had kwashiorkor and “mirasmi”, bypassed 'fit nation' status, and went straight to “fatty boom, boom!”

Writing in the Jamaica Observer, Dr Karen Philips said, “Locally, 20 per cent of Jamaican adults are categorised as obese, with 32 per cent classified as overweight [and] childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions.” Then, “According to Professor Fitzroy Henry… obesity rates among adults [were] 60 per cent in 2016.” ( Observer, March 28, 2017)

Minister of Health Christopher Tufton and Prime Minister Andrew Holness are good examples as they now run; but, Sirs, please dig deeper!

We knock fast food but home cooking is not blameless — sorry, Grandma! It is rich and flavourful with fats, salts, sugar, and has flavour-enhancers in sauces, gravies, soups. It's no coincidence that poverty, education, health, longevity, premature death are postcode related — obesity? Exercise matters too. Most people live downtown, but most gyms, doctors are uptown. Every year doctors from the ghetto graduate; why are none downtown? Name one in Tivoli or Rae Town? Jesus never said, “Eat as many calories as you burn,” but he should have, as diet is crucial. Some get it at home or Fitbit to track food, exercise, weight, etc. But contrary to logic, poor people are not too healthy. Take veggies, for example, mom said rabbits ate carrots and did not wear glasses, and we did not want big glasses like the fat kid up the road, so we ate them. Listen in at a food court: “Yuh want veg?”; the “No, thank you!” is frequent. Are vegetables our enemy?

'Box food' is a 'frenemy' — low-grade rice, a smidgen of meat, dollops of additive laden gravy; calories! The rich are not like us, so “nouvelle cuisine” saves them. A small steak with marbling; choreographed with a sprig of thyme, two spoons of brown rice, fresh rocket, and tomato on a large plate. We say, “Bwoy dat deh big man mean so tel. Watch di likkle sinting weh him eat; mi haffi get mi big food!”

The poor eat themselves into early graves. Much oil, sugar, salt when equipment has replaced labour; farming an add-on to taxi, day's work, weed whacking, selling “likkle weed” is like slow poison. Our calories regularly exceed our burn rate and sits on our belly, backside and thighs. We need incentives, diet and some fat-shaming to do right as next to tobacco, obesity is a major marker for cancers.

Cabinet must act. We wrote about salt, sugar, fats, and the jack boots at health caught on at last; but to pillory sugar after years ignoring advice on voluntary protocols is over the top. Our bodies need these, so Cabinet must spread best practice, not hysteria. Work with producers to reduce sugar in food; help kids set personal limits, say, one sweet drink, one small ultra-processed snack per day, and infill with fruit and water.

Butch Hendrickson and his “33% less sugar” bread is the way to go! Cooking oil is dicey too, as Cabinet kowtow to the USA. Put oils on a spreadsheet for comparative analysis and tell us how to use each. Why don't we use ghee? Is coconut best? Jamaican first!

Exercise is the highest and best use of your body as form follows function — if it has fins it swims. Our body's is bone and muscle in paired alignment for work. Food is fuel; sleep for repair, but fat is stored, so watch out! Closely linked to exercise is ergonomics. This is a body at work which the Industrial Revolution in Europe and major peoples (not Africa) used well. We have shovel, fork, machete, with no idea of the science of their weight, form, design, material, shear point as the white man only taught us to use them.

We wear clothing graded, sized on European or Asian bodies. They paint white mannequins black and minimise our women's beautiful derrieres and breasts so silhouettes just look white too. You know a text on African biomechanics and physiognomy? We had no da Vinci, but with exercise we perform superbly. Imagine if we truly knew our black bodies. We could lick obesity!

What's to be done, Tufton? Use law as a last resort in calorie choices; use education, standards, awards, incentives, then “name and shame” intransigent firms. Encourage research to investigate our generational salt fish diet and our high blood pressure epidemic. Other nations replaced it with fresh meat; we did not. We need positive messaging using celebrities (Usain Bolt?) not abuse; use social media, bright posters of foods, calorific value; salt, fats and sugar content so consumers can mix, match or have a slice of cheesecake as diet is not prison, but shame the gravalicious!

wProducers must set targets for reduced fat, salt or sugar. The poor need seminars on how to get the best from a hospital visit; some with health insurance don't get value as they are intimidated by physician's offices. School should be a safe space for healthy food and fruit in season. In 2012 Ronald Thwaites, as minister, commissioned a report on “School Gate Food” to guide policy, so let school gardens arise and grow veggies for lunch.

We need a national 'Box Food' campaign asking chefs to put a leaf of lettuce or slice of tomato in each box, and ask all, “Please, eat it.” Then escalate it in 2019 and beyond. No heavy hand, just “one-one coco”. But use consumer power if necessary. Eat well, exercise, avoid obesity, save your life! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at the Mona School of Business and Management at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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