Consumers should now be more empowered to make healthy food choices as a result of a national Healthy Eating in Jamaica campaign launched by the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) in partnership with Nestlé Jamaica Limited and the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC), last Tuesday at the Papine campus.

Acting President of UTech Ambassador Burchell Whiteman said the university is pleased to be partnering with Nestlé and the CAC on a timely national intervention that will empower Jamaicans to make more informed and healthier decisions about food intake. He noted that UTech takes seriously its mandate to actively guide and facilitate development in Jamaica, and the application of research work to solving a real problem in our country is highly commendable.

The launch of the Healthy Eating campaign follows from the research findings of a UTech Study on the ‘Cost of Healthy Eating in Jamaica’ led by Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Utech’s College of Health Sciences Fitzroy Henry.

Pointing to the national challenges with overweight and obesity, Professor Henry, in presenting the research findings, lamented that data indicate an increasing pattern for obesity in the last decade and the direct relation to leading causes of death including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and hypertension. He noted that the researchers sought to therefore answer the pertinent questions — if healthy diets are so important, do they really cost more, and if they do, can the poor afford to eat healthier?

Seeking to ascertain the cost of a 2,400 kcal diet using commonly consumed foods, Prof Henry explained that the study compared the cost of eating such a diet using healthy options compared with alternatives from within the six food groups. The foods were ranked using combined health criteria including whether they were high or low in complex carbohydrate, dietary fibre, cholesterol, saturated fat, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and other nutrients.

The study revealed that it costs $88 more to eat healthy for one day. This J$88 (US$0.78) compares with US $1.47 (average) from 27 studies in 10 countries. The research further showed that it is possible for a person to eat healthy for J$269 per day. He explained that for a family of three, this means J$5,649 per week which is equivalent to the minimum wage.

Noting that most households are larger than three people and that this figure does not include cost of fuel, time and other ingredients, Prof Henry argued that serious consideration should be given to reviewing the minimum wage, with consideration also given to establishing a ‘living wage’. He also emphasised the need to strengthen national efforts to provide appropriate value for money information to consumers with respect to food prices and their nutritional value. The researchers concluded that the additional cost of $88 more per day to eat healthy is far less than the cost of diabetes, hypertension and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) resulting from unhealthy diets.

Jamaica Observer