Good nutrition, physical fitness must be at the heart of national culture

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Engaging in physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet are lifestyle changes that can improve overall health. (Photo: Pixabay)

EARLIER this month, the Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton, reiterated his extreme concern about lifestyle-related diseases. At the time, he highlighted the burden placed on the National Health Fund (NHF) by diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Dr Tufton told Parliament at the time that in 2020/2021 the NHF spent more than $1.27 billion on blood pressure medication, up from $940 million in 2014/2015, and 1, $4 billion in diabetes drugs, up from $887 million five years earlier.

It is well established that these non-communicable diseases are closely linked to lifestyle habits such as a diet high in sugar and insufficient physical exercise.

At the time, this newspaper applauded Dr Tufton’s announcement that Minister of State for the Department of Health and Welfare and 1992 double Olympic silver medalist, Ms Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, would lead a new project Jamaica Moves in Schools. The obvious intention was to encourage physical exercise in children.

We then noted that the Jamaica Moves in Schools project fit perfectly into the government’s planned nutrition policy to encourage children to eat more vegetables and drink more water, as opposed to sugary drinks. We have also advocated for more organized sport among schoolchildren as part of an effort to entrench physical fitness as a way of life for Jamaicans.

Therefore, we are pleased with two stories that appeared in yesterday’s Jamaica Observer which, at first glance, may not seem related but which we believe are intimately connected. An article highlights a health-focused mass media campaign launched by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica; the other reports a three-day national elementary school athletics championship, which was due to start yesterday.

The latter is the first since COVID-19 began in early 2020. In truth, when the many negatives of the novel coronavirus are counted, among them will be the virtual shutdown of outdoor recreational activities on some occasions over the past two years as a result of virus containment measures.

We are told that the Heart Foundation’s project, labeled as the “Mass Media Campaign for the Health of Our Children,” should encourage the public to support front-of-package warning labels on consumer products. These warnings are intended to highlight dangers such as high sodium, sugar, saturated and trans fats in the products we buy. Warning labels should help consumers make informed choices.

“Additionally, the campaign should continue to highlight the harms of unhealthy foods such as ultra-processed packaged items that can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers,” says the report.

The value of such a campaign, as attempted here, cannot be overestimated in our view.

Again, although good nutrition is absolutely essential, it should not be separated from physical fitness. This is why primary school championships, even if COVID-19 persists, are so important. It follows the resumption of a myriad of sports competitions at high school level in recent months. This corresponds to the recognition that life should remain as close to normal as possible, despite the virus.

Moreover, as we have said before, as the nation seeks to build a long-term culture of good health encompassing diet and fitness for the greater good of all, the very young must be at the forefront. .

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