First Look

NINE IN TEN JAMAICANS SUPPORT GOVERNMENT ACTION TO FIGHT GROWING OBESITY PROBLEM



0 | 2018-09-10 14:57:00

According to a post-campaign public opinion survey, nine in ten Jamaicans want swift government action to tackle the country’s obesity epidemic.  Eighty-one percent now support a tax on sugary drinks if some of the revenues are invested in obesity reduction programmes.

In November 2017, Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health/Jamaica Moves launched a media campaign to sensitize the public to the health harms of added sugar. A pre-campaign survey was done prior to the start of the campaign and sought to understand the public’s opinions on health priorities in Jamaica, including their knowledge, attitudes and practices with regard to unhealthy diets and their willingness to support policies to address the growing obesity epidemic.

Today’s findings represent the follow-up post-campaign survey to assess the public’s opinion on a number of related matters.  The findings of the survey, which was conducted in June and July 2018 by Hope Caribbean, were released today at a press event in Kingston by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ), with support from global health organization Vital Strategies, and Ministry of Health (MOH).

Most Jamaicans (87%) agree that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity and 78% are concerned about their impact on the health of their children.

More than half of parents (54%) say their children consume most of their sugary drinks at school, and more than three-quarters agree that unhealthy foods and drinks should not be sold in schools.

Commenting on the survey findings, Minister of Health, Dr. Christopher Tufton, noted that: “Reducing our national burden of obesity and related disease is a public health priority. This research demonstrates popular support for our decision to restrict the availability of sugary drinks in schools from January 2019. We plan to further introduce evidence-based policies such as the front of package nutritional labelling and fiscal policies to discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks, helping our citizens, especially our children, develop healthy, life-long habits.”

“Our research confirms that Jamaicans are concerned about the impact of unhealthy foods and sugary drinks on their own health and the health of their children,” said Deborah Chen, Executive Director of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. She continued that “Evidence has shown that education, while very necessary, will not by itself bring about long-term behaviour change. There is overwhelming support for government intervention and strategies, including fiscal policies. Such policies have shown to be more effective, in creating lasting behaviour change. Hence, we welcome the restrictions on sugary drinks in schools and urge the government to implement more population-level policies, such as taxes on sugary drinks, to help improve the health of all Jamaicans.”

Eighty-five percent of survey respondents recalled seeing HFJ’s “Are you drinking yourself sick?” public education campaign, which was developed with technical support from Vital Strategies and included the ads “Rosie” and “Dad Knows Best.”

The Global School Health Survey (2017) of Jamaican adolescents aged 13 – 15 years, revealed that 10.3% of boys and 9.9% of girls are obese, representing an overall increase of 68.3% when compared to a similar survey conducted in 2010.  In addition, more than two-thirds of these students reported that they drink carbonated soft drinks one or more times per day.
The Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (2016-2017) found that one in two Jamaicans (54%) aged 15 years and over were overweight/obese. Obesity is a risk factor for no-communicable diseases (NCDs), which causes 78 percent of all deaths in Jamaica, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

A study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that Jamaica’s economy will lose over 77.1 billion Jamaican dollars between 2017 and 2032 due to the costs of cardiovascular disease and diabetes complications alone.




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