My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How UNFAO and IICA Reports indicate that Wealthy Jamaicans are malnourished

Monday, December 28, 2015

How UNFAO and IICA Reports indicate that Wealthy Jamaicans are malnourished

“Although they are attractively packaged, tasty and filling, empty calorie foods, often called 'junk foods', contain little or no nutritional value. Choosing to consume too much empty calorie foods is detrimental to good health”

Nutritionist Lisa Hunt commenting on the findings of the IICA (Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture) research paper titled “Hunger and nutrition from bellyful to body fuel”

Jamaicans today, despite living a better lifestyle then their forefathers, are still malnourished.

To be precise, approximately 200,000 Jamaica are undernourished according to the UNFAO (United Nation Food and Agriculture Organisation) as declared in the article “200,000 Undernourished People In Jamaica - UN Report”, published Monday December 28, 2015, The Jamaica Gleaner.

According to the UNFAO's report, the following countries have undernourishment levels of 10% or higher:

1.      Bahamas
2.      Belize
3.      Dominica
4.      Jamaica
5.      Trinidad and Tobago

The UNFAO cited the following factors that contributed to this situation:

1.      Income inequality
2.      Food access
3.      Poverty
4.      Unemployment

Still, we're not that bad in the Caribbean, as the undernourished are getting, well, better nourished:

1.      8.1 million in 1990-92
2.      7.5 million in 2014-16

Strangely enough, the UNFAO report claims that income inequality exist in the following countries:

1.      Haiti
2.      Jamaica
3.      Suriname

I guess by “Income inequality” they mean the gap between the wealthy in Jamaican society and the poor somehow affects our diet. However, this is the flaw in the UNFAO, as that's not quite the case; the wealth in Jamaican society are also undernourished as well.

Wealthy Jamaican making bad food choices - Eating foods high in processed sugar, fats and salt

Researchers from IICA (Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture) have published some interesting research under the title “Hunger and nutrition from bellyful to body fuel”.

The IICA's research came to light at the Caribbean Pacific Agri-Food Forum held at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus in the week of Sunday November 1st 2015.

The IICA's research points to a very strange situation occurring within the Caribbean. Caribbean nations who based on their demographics are counted among the wealthy, are making bad food choices. Good to note that both the IICA and the UNFAO reports are valid; the IICA is a little more specific in terms of identifying the malnourished as being the wealthier class within Jamaica.

Even though they can afford to eat more nutritious food, they are instead lavishing their money on food that's high in refined carbohydrates, fats and salt and offers little or no nutrition. At the same, they are not consuming enough fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, legumes and nuts, to quote the IICA report:  “This has resulted from a rise in consumption of a diet high in refined carbohydrates, fats and salt, and a fall in consumption of fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, legumes and nuts”.

The result: an increase in CNCD's (chronic non-communicable diseases) such as obesity which can lead to stroke, heart attack and cancer. All associated with eating processed foods i.e. canned foods and packaged snacks.

Many of these foods, be it canned or fast food, contain empty calories as Jamaica eat less of the foods that our forefather ate. Contrary to popular belief, malnutrition isn't a disease of the poor but one that's associated with the wealthy, to quote the IICA report: “Under nutrition is no longer automatically associated with the poor, downtrodden and hungry. Malnutrition is now increasingly being associated with the other extreme - over- nutrition - which is linked to rising affluence, availability, easy access and affordability of a diverse range of food products generally referred to as 'empty calories'”.

As such, albeit you may feel a sense of well-being as well as satisfying your desire to be associated with a certain social class, you are not getting the adequate amount of nutrition from the food that you eat. The result is that many Jamaicans are becoming obese and experiencing deteriorating health in terms of their immune system and energy level.

This affect the proper function of their internal organs, their immune system and external functions e.g. defection and excretion, all taking a toll on their overall health and making susceptible to CNCD's.

So why is this happening? And what can we do about it?

Fast food, canned foods and packaged snacks - The source of malnourishment in Jamaica

It may mainly be because of the increasing influence of North American media as well as the experience of Jamaican travelling to the US of A.

Jamaicans, in their desire to be seen as being modern, mimic the eating habits of their American counterparts, eating and drinking the same processed foods that they eat.

This includes fast food, canned foods as well as packaged snacks high in refined carbohydrates, fats and salt as pointed the IICA research, quote: “It is the overconsumption of such foods that has caused a sharp spike in CNCDs among Caribbean populations. Even more worrisome is that CNCDs are now strongly linked to a rise in adult diseases, among infants and children, particularly diabetes”.

To fix this problem, the diet of children and adults has to be changed. This includes diversifying the foods that children, mainly consisting of consisted mainly of bread made of white flour, with cheese or butter, rice and skimmed milk to include more fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, legumes  and nuts.

Nutritionist Robert Best suggests that attempts should be made to wean children off eating this regular fare as well as fast food and canned foods.

They should also be dissuaded from eating packaged snacks such as biscuits and bag juice, which is yet to be properly regulated by the BSJ (Bureau of Standards Jamaica) as noted in my blog article entitled “BSJ's Bag Juice Regulations – Why Ministry of Education must support School Gardens as Sugar in Bag Juice linked to Lifestyle Diseases”. 

This can be done by making fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, legumes and nuts more attractive to children. Once they are hooked from a very young age, they'll continue onwards with these good eating habits, thereby reducing their chances of becoming obese and co-morbidity of CNCD's.

Ministry of Health Junk Food Tax – Expand to processed foods as well as packaged snacks

As for the Ministry of Health, a Junk food or Fast Food tax is needed to not only tax sellers of Fast food as argued in my blog article entitled “Min. of Health, Dr. Fenton Ferguson proposes Junk Food Tax - Jamaican High Schoolers Addiction to American Fast Food”. 

This Junk food tax should also be expanded to include canned foods as well as packaged snacks, many of which are imported as opined out in my blog article entitled “Why Jamaica's Basic Item Food Bill mostly from 1st World Countries despite being Made in Jamaica”.

The US$5 billion per year Imported food bill that’s' shared between Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti and The Bahamas needs to be reduced, as we need to grow more of what we eat.

This is preferred to partaking of the rich First World fast food, canned foods as well as packaged snacks high in refined carbohydrates, fats and salt that leaves us malnourished or undernourished, whichever study you choose to believe.

Here’s the link:

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