Fitness and improved diet for a healthy Jamaica
Minister of Education and Youth, Hon. Fayval Williams (right), and Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Hon. Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, participate in an exercise routine during National School Moves Day activities on May 29. The day’s events were held at Ferncourt High School in St. Ann.

It’s no secret that lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases have weighed very heavily on Jamaica’s National Health Fund (NHF) and the wider health sector and are eating into available income for everyone.

Yet, it came as a shock to hear the actual figures. Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told Parliament earlier this week that in 2020/2021 the NHF spent more than $1.27 billion on hypertension drugs compared to $940 million for 2014/2015. The fund spent another $1.4 billion on diabetic drugs, compared to $887 million in 2014/2015.

We are told that the cost of commonly used products such as paracetamol, dextrose in saline, and morphine powder jumped by 785 per cent, 87 per cent, and 117 per cent, respectively.

Such is the strain, Dr Tufton said the Government will “review” and “reform” how health care is funded, which, it seems to us, could well mean cutbacks in health benefits.

Yet, as health experts keep saying, Jamaicans can reduce the impact of ailments such as hypertension and diabetes by simply improving basic, every day approaches to diet and physical fitness.

The minister pointed to the 2016/2017 statistics which show one in three people aged 15 years and older was hypertensive, one in eight had diabetes, and one in two was obese or overweight.

Much of that flow from poor diet and low levels of physical activity.

That reality motivated the health ministry’s launch of the popular Jamaica Moves Programme in 2017 which had Jamaicans in workplaces, schools, homes, etc, involved in daily, structured fitness activities. That programme, dovetailed to efforts to significantly reduce sugar in the diet, appeared set to bear fruit when, sadly, it was beset by controversy.

Readers will recall talk vehemently denied by the minister and his aides that he inappropriately influenced contracts with the ministry’s then private sector partner, marketing and public relations firm Market Me. That episode was followed by an unseemly tussle over brand ownership.

Like much else, the pandemic then effectively left Jamaica Moves on hold.

Against that backdrop, we welcome news that minister of state in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and 1992 double Olympic silver medallist, Mrs Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn will lead a renewed Jamaica Moves in Schools.

With schools now reopened, Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn’s programme will seek to strengthen healthy lifestyle practices among students, thereby fighting non-communicable diseases over the long term, Jamaicans are being told.

We suspect that Mrs Cuthbert-Flynn, who is renowned for her energy, will extend her efforts beyond schools to young people generally.

Hopefully, the Moves in Schools’ focus will embrace organised sports such as track and field, football, netball, and cricket. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even before the pandemic, sport in wider student populations not to be confused with representative school teams had dwindled significantly, compared to decades past. It seems obvious that organised sport on a wide scale, among young people in particular, can only aid good health.

We expect that Moves in Schools will fit neatly into the planned nutrition policy aimed at getting children to eat more vegetables and drink more water as opposed to sugary beverages. Without doubt, starting with the very young is always the best way to go.

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