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Do Ministries of Health and Education Pay Lip Service to Healthy Living?

December 17 2018 - by Dr. Audrey Gittens, Lecturer in the Caribbean School of Nursing, University of Technology, Jamaica and an Alumna of CLP's Leadership Development Programme

Globally, chronic non-communicable diseases are among the major causes of morbidity and mortality. Ministries of Health and Education have placed non-communicable diseases high on the agenda for action. One may ask, however, are they doing all they can to address the myriad of diseases which fall under the category chronic non-communicable?

The World Health Organization reported that the risk for premature deaths due to chronic non-communicable diseases, in Jamaica, is 30-70 %.   This is death occurring in persons between the ages of 30 to 70 years.  The report also indicated that deaths from non-communicable diseases account for 80% of all deaths in 2016, a total of 15, 800.  This is an increase of 3, 027 deaths in 2014.  When cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are isolated from other non-communicable diseases, they account for 42% of total deaths.

This issue is not isolated to Jamaica.  A Ministry of Health in another Caribbean country launched its “Wellness Commission”. At that function, there were addresses about healthy life styles and the importance of eating a healthy and balanced meal.  Children from the surrounding schools were invited to make presentations in the form of drama, song and dance.  One of the items presented by the children was called “Less sugar, sweeter life”. At the end of the function, a meal was served and there was absolutely nothing healthy on the table, not even a fruit.  The children were fed cakes, fried chicken and unhealthy sandwiches with the sugary drinks to top it off.  I lamented that in spite of the beautiful speeches, the purpose of the function was defeated.  The children will go back to school and purchase their sugary juices and cakes from the trays lurking outside their school compound.  The well formatted document will be placed on the shelves and the cycle of unhealthy living will continue.

Please do not forget the hospital and school cafeterias and tuck shops.  Take a look and see what is offered. Apart from nuts and water, there is not likely to be anything healthy to consume.  The sale of unhealthy foods to school children seems to be a lucrative business.  It is a matter of money versus health.

As the holiday season is approaching, Ministries and departments will be holding their annual Christmas dinners and luncheons or casual social events.  I invite you to take a look at the menu offered at the various functions.  It is guaranteed that there will hardly be any item we consider healthy, on the menu.  If, as an individual, you practice healthy eating, be prepared to take your own meal.  If you dare ask that consideration be given to your request for a healthy meal, you may be judged as unreasonable, expecting the caterer to address your individual food preference. 

I am aware that the counter argument from government agents is that persons should be able to choose what they eat.  This argument is baseless in the context of what the Ministry of Health is offering.  If tasty, healthy meals are offered, people will eat and be contented. People should expect that a meal offered by the Ministry of Health is a healthy one. In fact, this will be encouragement for them to prepare healthy meals in their own kitchen.  

I urge all concerned to stop paying lip-service to healthy lifestyle and set the pace.  Leaders lead from the front.  I recommend that Ministries advise caterers what to prepare for their activities.  Nutritionists and dietitians should provide standard menu to guide caterers. We should stop pointing fingers at the general public and put our house in order.


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