JIS News

Director of Nutrition at the Ministry of Health, Sharmaine Edwards, has said that priority attention needs to be paid to nutrition to ensure the health of the population.
She said that while under-nutrition is on the decline, “our levels of overweight and obesity are skyrocketing and we have problems with anaemia and some vitamin deficiencies”.
Mrs. Edwards was speaking on the nutritional status of the Jamaican population at a two-day multi-sectoral workshop, hosted by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), yesterday (Dec. 3) at the Hilton Kingston.
Turning to nutrition trends in the various age groups, she said that trends in over-nutrition in children under five years of age for 2007, is at seven per cent. The Ministry of Health’s figures for the underweight in that age group is 3.3 per cent, while the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s statistics for the same cohort is slightly lower, at 2.2 per cent. “I think we are doing well in that respect,” Mrs. Edwards noted.
A study of 9 to 11 year olds showed that 20 per cent were overweight, while in 2005, a youth risk resiliency survey found that in the 10 to 15 age group, 6.4 per cent were underweight and 11 per cent were overweight.
Turning to adolescents, Mrs. Edwards disclosed that another youth risk resiliency survey done in 2007, in the 15 to 19 age group, showed that they were 25 per cent in the overweight category, and 10 per cent underweight. From a small sample taken in schools across the island, the Ministry found that that five per cent were overweight.
As it regards adults, two lifestyle surveys found that the trend in underweight figures is on the decline, from 4. 9 per cent in 2000 to 4.7 in 2008. For the overweight, it was 26.1 per cent in 2000 compared to 26. 4 in 2008. Meanwhile, obesity has risen from 20 per cent to 2000 to 25 per cent in 2008.
Turning to trends in anemia, Mrs. Edwards informed that a 2000 survey of children under the age of five showed that 37.6 per cent were anaemic, using a cut-off haemoglobin level of 11, while a study of school age children done in 1998, showed 23.5 per cent being anaemic. For pregnant women, the study done in 2000 showed 20 per cent anaemia, while in 2007, using a cut-off haemoglobin level of less than 10, the figure was 55.8 per cent. “We do have a problem with anaemia in our population,” she pointed out.
Vitamin A deficiency, which Mrs. Edwards noted is rare in Jamaica, was shown to be 0.7 per cent in children, in a study conducted by the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute in 1999, while for adults, deficiency was rare, and just about 0.3 per cent.
For children under five years old, 50.4 per cent were marginally deficient in Vitamin E, while 17 per cent of school age children were deficient, and the figure was 9.6 per cent for pregnant women.
Mr. Edwards said calcium was one of the nutrients that needs to be monitored, as well as Vitamin C. “When we looked at diets, we recognised that there were poor intakes of vitamin C, and it may raise the question as to why we have so much anaemia,” she remarked.
The Nutrition Director said that there is not a lot of data on nutrition in the elderly, and there needs to be more focus on this group (65 and over). “This is a population that we are literally ignoring…we do have an aging population and we need to pay more attention to this area of our populace… so that we have a full picture across the lifespan as to what the nutritional status of our population really is,” she stated.
The objectives of the workshop, which concludes today (Dec. 4) are: to present the health and nutrition situation of Jamaica to the national multi-sectoral committee; discuss implications of the health and nutrition situation and strategies for alleviating them; determine priority issues to be addressed through food-based dietary guidelines; and present the proposed areas of focus for a food and nutrition security policy for Jamaica.
PAHO is in the process of developing Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) for the Jamaican population.