February 27, 2024

MINISTER OF Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, has expressed concern about the number of Jamaicans who are abandoning healthy Jamaican food choices and are instead adopting other cultures centred around processed foods and increased fast food consumption.

Referring to the recent opening of the doughnut franchise Krispy Kreme, and the hundreds of Jamaicans who not only waited in line overnight for its grand opening but have been flocking the establishment ever since, Tufton stated that this was representative of excellent marketing campaigns which helped to drive sales and attract customers.

Dubbing the unusual phenomenon within the Jamaican culture as the ‘Krispy Kreme Effect’, he expressed that more work needed to be done to craft creative and effective campaign strategies to result in a massive, health conscious, behavioural change in society. This, he said, would help to stem the current chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) crisis in the country.

Nutrition Facts campaign

Tufton, who was speaking at the launch of the nutrition facts panel media campaign ‘Check di Nutrition Facts inna di table pon di side or di back!’ on Wednesday at the Terra Nova All Suites Hotel, explained that the behaviour of citizens at the Krispy Kreme event informed him that a merging of cultures was overwhelming the society, and causing Jamaica to lose its identity.

“We accept, a lot more readily, what traditionally has been alien to our culture and almost accept it more readily than traditionally what we are accustomed to,” he said, as foreign brands were viewed as being “superior”.

“I must tell you, I would not wait outside of a Krispy Kreme for 24 hours to get a one-year supply and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t eat a Krispy Kreme [doughnut], because I would and I have. Not since it has been here, but in the past,” he said.

Tufton stated that his intention was not to bring negative attention to Krispy Kreme, nor was he criticising their successful marketing efforts, but that the promotion of unhealthy foods makes it harder for the ministry to achieve its goals.

The nutrition facts panel provides important information on serving sizes, calories, nutrients and per cent daily values. The campaign aims to provide Jamaicans with the necessary information on how to read and interpret the nutrition facts panel.

It is the ministry’s intention to sensitise citizens on how utilising the nutrition facts panel in their daily lives will help them to make healthier food purchases and to maintain the recommended number of servings of foods within the Caribbean’s six food groups.

Tufton further lamented that the unwillingness of the business sector – inclusive of manufacturers, distributors and importers – to reformulate their products and to adopt front of package labelling will delay the expected achievements of the various campaigns. He noted that many within the sector were of the view that the production and sale of healthy foods was not a viable option to generate significant profits.

He said that there remained high levels of insensitivity among the sector along with a lack of appreciation for the long-term damaging effects that unhealthy food choices will have on the population.

Tufton added that the ministry would, therefore, have to be “bullish” in their approach of challenging beliefs of profit over health and wellbeing.

‘Stumbling block’

He stated that as the Government looks to pursue front of packaging labels, the “stumbling block” was for a united decision to be made about what kind of front of packaging label would be used.

“The reality is that industry is sceptical because they think it will affect cost of the labelling, but they totally ignore the cost of the illness and the hospitalisation and the down time and the loss of productivity and the loss of consumers on the other end. We have to help them to understand it … that it is a penny wise and pound foolish approach that they would’ve taken if their only view and focus is on the two pennies that it may cost to give consumers [more] information,” he said.

Dr Simone Spence, director of health promotion and protection in the MOHW, stated that the campaign was critical in promoting a culture within Jamaica for consumers to “read it before we eat it”.

“As simple as it sounds, this knowledge will help to prevent or manage chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancers and cardiovascular diseases like stroke and heart disease,” she said.

Spence stated that in order to “turn the tide on NCDs”, there needed to be an amplification of well-needed dialogue through public awareness and policy shift while also charging Jamaicans to reimagine themselves playing an active role in improving their health status.

Simeca Alexander, advocacy officer at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, expressed that some challenges that many Jamaicans faced in trying to change their diet included long working hours, therefore, spending most of their time at work and being unable to prepare healthier foods at home after work; battling traffic on the way home and becoming too tired to cook dinner, therefore, finding the purchase of prepackaged and ultra-processed foods as a better alternative.

“This leads us to little or no control over the ingredients, therefore, the institution of a nutrition facts panel on all prepackaged foods gives us the ability to make more informed and healthier decisions,” she said.

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Key messages of the nutrition facts panel education campaign:

Choose items with per cent daily value (%DV) of 5% or less for total fats, sodium and sugars. (It is important to note that the recommended daily limits for sugar for men: 36g, women: 24g and children: less than 24g.

Choose items with per cent daily value (%DV) of 20% or more for vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre.

Pay attention to servings and serving sizes. If servings per container is more than 1 then multiply calories, per cent daily value (%DV) and grams (g) by the number of servings to get the total in the container.

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