Article courtesy of the Office of                 Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health, Basseterre, is pleased to support the activities of Caribbean Nutrition Day, June 1, and the Nutrition Week of activities extending through June 7.  This observance is spearheaded by the Nutrition Surveillance Unit in conjunction with the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, a regional health institution based at the UWI, Jamaica.  The theme is:  “Healthy Eating and Active Living:  Beware of Trans Fats”.  The following is submitted for the information and guidance of the general public.

1. The theme is two-dimensional to remind the public about the ongoing epidemic of obesity at home and throughout the region, and the fact that fat consumption is a major contributor to obesity and ill-health.

2. Obesity is caused by two factors – the over-consumption of food energy (calories) and physical inactivity.  When humans consume more calories than are needed, body weight increases because what is not used for activity is stored as fat under the skin, in the liver and around the heart and other muscles.  Obesity-related diseases include diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

3. The latest data on the local weight profile is as follows

a. Overweight adults – 30% males; 40% females (2000 study)

b. Obese adults i.e. BMI > 30 – 30% (2003).

c. Overweight 13 – 15 year olds – 20% (2005).

Updated information is expected shortly following analysis of a recently concluded survey (STEPS) in which over 1000 persons participated.

4. The overweight trends in children and teenagers are troubling; health professionals expect more cases of diabetes in young people.

5. The cost of health care is escalating primarily because of lifestyle choices such as over-eating and physical inactivity. (Other contributors include permissive sex, substance abuse, and injuries due to speeding and inter-personal violence).

6. The public is advised that exercise is healthy. It lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, and it boosts immunity and a sense of wellbeing.  Increasing physical activity is simple.  Exercise options include walking, dancing, jogging, swimming, hiking, and cycling.  A useful starting level is three hours per week of activity sufficient to raise your heart rate and “break a sweat”.

7. The public is also advised to reduce fat consumption.  A 2003 study showed local fat consumption rates twice the recommended level.  Of particular concern is a type of fat called Trans Fat widely used in the commercial food industry because it adds texture, flavour and shelf life to commercially prepared food.

8. Trans Fat is found in products such as margarine, snacks, pastries and cooking oil.  Look for the terms “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil” on the labels.

9. Trans Fat is non-essential fat i.e. it has no useful purpose in human nourishment.  It is a health hazard because it increases the blood level of ‘bad” cholesterol which causes blocked arteries and heart attacks.  Heart disease and other disorders of the circulation are the major causes of death in St. Kitts and Nevis.

10. The Ministry of Health strongly advises all persons to adopt a “No Trans Fat” policy.   Importers should eliminate Trans Fat containing products from their consignments.  Operators of restaurants and other food service establishments should refrain from using Trans Fat in food preparation.  The general public should not buy and consume food products containing Trans Fat.

The nutrition-related observances come at a time of immense public concern over the prices of certain foods and also the availability of evaporated milk.  The public’s attention is drawn to December 8th 2007 headline of the Economist magazine which reads “The End of Cheap Food.”  Note should also be taken of the 23rd May 2008 statement by United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicting high food prices for several years.

The general public is asked to further note the following:

11. The high food prices refer mostly to grains – corn, wheat, rice, and soybean – which are carbohydrates or energy nutrients.  They are not produced locally therefore we have no control over their world market prices. There are no predictions of high prices for local energy foods – yam, dasheen, eddo, potato, breadfruit, plantain and banana – which are fresher and safer therefore healthier choices.  They are also less likely to strain budgets.

12. The issue is choice:  In the current circumstances and for the foreseeable future, when people choose Corn Flakes, Rice Crispies and Wheatabix they should prepare for increasing prices.

13. Recall a wise saying:  “A bad wind never blows”.  The Ministry of Health believes that high priced imports represent an opportunity to refocus on self-reliance in food production.  There is hope for a future of eating to live from the abundance of the land and sea as opposed to consuming food processed in a factory.

14. Additionally, people who choose a lifestyle of factory produced foods that are usually high in fat, high in salt, and high in refined sugar and chemical additives must expect ill-health consequences such as weight gain, increase blood pressure, rotting teeth, constipation and skin rashes.

15. About evaporated milk:   This product is concentrated cows milk whose nutrients including calcium are readily available in fresh garden produce.   Milk from cows is not a need but a want.  Man does not live by milk alone.

16. In September 2007, regional Heads of Government articulated a strategic course of action centered on robust investment in and protection of indigenous farming and fishing.

17. The people of St. Kitts and Nevis can beat the high cost of imported, factory produced food by making a behaviour change in favour of local and OECS garden produce which keeps money circulating in our EC currency union and economy.

Nutrition Week 2008 comes at a critical juncture of our collective thinking and policy making.  It is instructive that the issue of Food Security – the quality, availability, and price of food – looms large as a major survival issue on the eve of the Silver Jubilee of our Independence.  Food is vital to life but food does not mean rice, macaroni, bread and evaporated milk only.  The original inhabitants of St. Kitts and Nevis were an intelligent people who were sustained by the local ecosystem.

Independence means self-reliance, therefore, as far as feeding ourselves is concerned, “Yes we can” and “Yes we must”.  The next 25 years of “Independence” should see our nation less dependent hence less anxious about the arrival schedule of container ships bringing “food” in cans, bottles, boxes and plastic.

The Ministry of Health craves the public’s support for all of the Nutrition Week activities and the other health promotion activities throughout the year.  These are opportunities to think and dialogue on the nation’s food security as well as personal lifestyle choices and behaviour change imperatives in relation to healthy eating and active living.