Health

Bitter effects of sugar

Heart Foundation of Jamaica takes aim at obesity

BY DORIAN GRAHAM
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 19, 2017



THE Heart Foundation of Jamaica has launched a massive campaign amid its urgent call for Jamaicans to reduce their average daily intake of sugar.

According to the foundation's executive director, Deborah Chen, Jamaicans are consuming far more sugar than the suggested amount without even being aware of it.

While speaking at the launch of the Global Health Advocacy Campaign: Obesity Prevention at the Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston on Friday, Chen issued an impassioned plea.

She demonstrated how a 20 fl oz bottle of soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages can contain more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is the total amount of sugar recommended for an entire day.

According to the foundation, these beverages have no nutritional value and are harmful to the body, since a lot of the sugar that is absorbed may end up being stored as fat or glycogen deposits in the liver.

The point was made that excess sugar intake is a major contributor to obesity among adults and children, which further increases the risks for liver diseases, diabetes, some cancers, and other non-communicable diseases.

Chen said: “The objective of this campaign is to halt obesity.”

She also encouraged individuals to exercise in addition to reducing and monitoring their sugar intake.

Dubbed: “Are you drinking yourself sick?”, the media campaign will show how excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to obesity.

The executive director also lauded Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for his involvement. Tufton heads the 'Jamaica Moves' campaign, which is geared towards promoting a healthier and more active lifestyle among Jamaicans. Jamaica Moves and the Ministry of Health have partnered with the Heart Foundation of Jamaica for the obesity prevention programme.

Meanwhile, the foundation's chairperson, Dr Andrene Chung, reported that of the thousands of individuals who visit the Heart Foundation each year for screening and treatment, majority of them are overweight or obese.

“This is a growing problem which can only be tackled by sustained public education and provision of workable solutions for the average Jamaican to help them to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. We believe that public health strategies must be employed to tackle this growing problem. This is a population problem and policy must be put in place to address it,” said Dr Chung.

Professor Fitzroy Henry, head of public health nutrition at the University of Technology, Jamaica described the launch as a historic event, before presenting on how sugar can be deleterious to health.

Dr Tufton, who was the guest speaker at the launch, emphasised that, “Lifestyle is perhaps the biggest risk factor of public health at this point in time.“

He noted that it is the responsibility of the Government, non-governmental organisations, as well as leaders in the community and society to educate Jamaicans to help them make better choices that are in their own interest and in the interest of the country.

“Information is what provides the basis on which decisions are made,” Tufton said.

However, he acknowledged that, “We are competing in an environment of choice and options that involves a lot of competing interests, and we cannot allow our voice to be any less pronounced given that our cause is so important…”

The health minister also made reference to scientific evidence available that shows how dangerous sugar can be. In fact, he even compared it to tobacco.

“The overindulgence or consumption of sugar is as bad for you as is tobacco, which we have major campaigns and legislative framework to discourage consumption of. In other words, sugar is the new tobacco,” Dr Tufton said.

The minister countered the idea that the campaign is a fight against industry and businesses that provide sugary goods and services for consumption.

“We will encourage, in the first instance, all stakeholders, including the industry, to appreciate our perspective, and if they are having difficulty appreciating it, we will spend time… to help them appreciate it,” he said.

Dr Tufton further encouraged the private sector to join the ministry and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica in the struggle against obesity by providing options that support the concept of healthy living and sharing with others the dangers of excess sugar intake on health.

According to the Ministry of Health, adults are not the only ones who are being targeted with the campaign. The Global School Health Survey 2010 reported that 27.7 per cent of students 13-15 years old were found to be obese and overweight and, as such, children are also being targeted.

Some schools are already taking steps to encourage healthy lifestyles, such as Alpha Primary which has a Healthy Heart Club. However, the campaign will seek to reach even more children.

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