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Story Highlights

  • Jamaicans urged to read the nutritional content of food labels, in order to make healthier choices, and eliminate the risk of diet-related illnesses.
  • Discussions last year, regarding a proposed cess on the fast food industry, were aimed at raising awareness about healthy eating.
  • Twenty-five per cent of Jamaicans had hypertension and almost half of that number, or some 25,000 persons, had a stroke.

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, is encouraging Jamaicans to read the nutritional content of food labels, in order to make healthier choices, and eliminate the risk of diet-related illnesses.

He argued that once persons are able to identify the specific calorific value of the food they consume “this will make a significant impact in their lives”.

The Minister was addressing Tuesday’s (Jan. 28) press launch of HEART Month 2014 activities at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.

He said that discussions last year, regarding a proposed cess on the fast food industry, were aimed at raising awareness about healthy eating.

“I know there were some persons panicking but it is not about a cess, it is really about getting us to begin to accept labelling…to get persons to be able to make good choices,” he said, while commending Island Grill as one restaurant that has eliminated the use of Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their food preparation.

He said that as part of a healthy lifestyle it is important for persons to know their “numbers.”

“Jamaicans need to know what a normal blood pressure reading is, and what their reading is. The same goes for cholesterol, which can lead to clogged arteries and a multitude of problems. Let us not forget blood sugar and waist measurement,” he stated.

Dr. Ferguson, in his address, reiterated the Government’s commitment to reducing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25 per cent by 2025, stating that “we intend to do everything in our power to meet that target.”

He noted that while billions of dollars have been spent over the years in putting in health infrastructure and providing treatment, more focus needs to be placed on the preventative side and dealing with the risk factors associated with NCDs.

“While we are fixing structures and establishing centres of excellence in primary care, we must deal with the risk factors and diet, excessive use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and the worse of them all, tobacco use,” he argued.

Statistics from the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey of 2007/08 indicated that 25 per cent of Jamaicans had hypertension and almost half of that number, or some 25,000 persons, had a stroke.

Approximately 12,000 persons suffered a heart attack; 65 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men were overweight, while 86 per cent of persons with high cholesterol were unaware of their disease status.

HEART Month, a project of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, will be observed throughout February under the theme: ‘Know Your Numbers’. Activities to mark the month include a medical symposium, three outside broadcasts, and visits to 22 health centres islandwide.

The Heart Foundation was established in 1971 by the Lion’s Club of Kingston in an effort to minimize the incidence of death from heart disease in Jamaica.

The institution offers heart screening in-house, and through its mobile programme at health centres, supermarkets, health fairs and corporate offices.

In 2012 alone, over 88,000 Jamaicans from all walks of life used the services of the Foundation.