The push for children to consume healthier foods and beverages for better well-being was intensified on Wednesday with a health campaign launched by Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ).
The project, which is called the Protect Our Children’s Health Mass Media Campaign, is expected to encourage public support for the octagonal, front-of-package warning labels, particularly for those high in sodium, sugar, saturated and trans fat to effectively help consumers make conscious choices.
Additionally, the campaign should continue to highlight the harms of unhealthy foods such as ultra-processed packaged items that can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Speaking at the virtual launch, representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica Mariko Kagoshima raised concerns about childhood obesity.
“In Jamaica today, the need to protect, promote and support childhood nutrition has never been greater. Childhood obesity from infancy to adolescent years is a growing health crisis,” she said.
Kagoshima pointed to research which indicates that the obesity rate in Jamaica increased by 171 per cent in four years for ages seven to 11, while approximately nine per cent of those under age five are overweight.
“Childhood obesity can have lifelong health consequences, including increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes. There is also the mental health impact such as depression, socialisation, low self-esteem and poor education attainment. Children and adults living with obesity and other non-communicable diseases are more susceptible to infectious diseases, as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
Meanwhile, project manager of Global Health Advocacy at HFJ Barbara McGaw expressed confidence that the campaign will have a positive impact on the school nutrition policy to be implemented.
“There have been calls for this policy from various areas – UNICEF, the Heart Foundation, Medical Association of Jamaica, and [the] Paediatric Association of Jamaica. It is very important that we have this policy implemented to help protect our children in the school environment,” she said.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton disclosed during his 2022/23 Sectoral Debate presentation in the House of Representatives, on May 3, that a school nutrition policy would be developed. It will be aimed at keeping children healthy by encouraging them to increase the consumption of vegetables and drinking more water as opposed to sugary beverages.