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The Ministry of Health and Wellness’ study on salt consumption practices of Jamaicans, which is being undertaken in partnership with the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR), is set to commence in the first quarter of next year.

The $13.5-million research project also involves collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI), and is intended to provide contextual information for the implementation of a National Salt Reduction Programme to reduce blood pressure and associated cardiovascular disease.

Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, made the disclosure at the virtual launch of the LIFE Project on Tuesday (December 15) at the UWI’s Mona campus in St. Andrew.

The research project on salt consumption is aimed at estimating the dietary sodium content in commonly consumed packaged foods sold in supermarkets and food chain restaurants; conducting a baseline survey on current knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding salt intake in Jamaica, and estimating current levels of salt consumption.

Dr. Tufton said that the Ministry is also looking at sugar consumption with the support of the National Health Fund (NHF), and work has already begun on trans-fat, salt and sugar with the University of Technology (UTech), among other stakeholders.

“Already, some 300 samples of commonly consumed foods have been sent to our labs at the Scientific Research Council (SRC) and the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) for testing. Once the results are in, we will publicly engage stakeholders on the setting of standards and targets in line with good public health policy,” he noted.

Minister Tufton said that the study comes against the background of the increased emphasis on research to inform policy, noting the development of a National Health Research Agenda, which has been adopted by a number of stakeholders, including those in academia, ministries, departments and agencies and educational institutions.

He noted that the Ministry is creating the enabling environment for health research in Jamaica to thrive in the public health interest and is depending on researchers and institutions to rise to the occasion and to collaborate to generate and make the best use of these studies.

In so doing, funds have been granted to postgraduate students to conduct research in areas pertaining to the National Health Research Agenda and has launched a Research for Wellness Fund, financed by the NHF to the tune of $50 million annually, to support evidence-based policies.

“Work has also begun on the development of a policy on research for health as well as on a Ten-Year Survey Plan in which the Ministry seeks to advocate for funding for large-scale surveys, which are expensive but which are needed to provide data to guide our national programmes,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton commended the team at CAIHR and its partners on the LIFE Project, noting that the initiative represents a significant leap forward in the effort to combat the scourge of non-communicable Diseases (NCD) in Jamaica.

Furthermore, he said, “this type of research supports national development. It informs what we do, provides data to improve how we operate and determines the best use of resources”.

The LIFE project is an islandwide cohort (follow-up) study that will enrol 8,000 Jamaicans in order to understand the role of genetics, social, environmental and lifestyle factors in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It will be the largest cohort study, to date, examining these issues in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean, and will build on the lessons learned from studies already conducted in Jamaica, Barbados, The Bahamas and the United States.

Cohort studies are research methods that involve collecting information from participants and following them over time to see whether they develop specific conditions.

This type of study provides the best evidence for putting in place measures to improve healthcare and prevent these conditions among vulnerable groups.

The LIFE Project will use data captured from the Third Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey in 2016/17 and will invite those study participants, as well as other persons living in these communities, to be part of this new study.

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