July 3, 2004
GUYANA is getting in line with a campaign in the Caribbean to get people to eat healthy.
It on Thursday became the second Caribbean country to have successfully launched what the technocrats call the Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG), following in the footsteps of The Bahamas.
At the launching on the Merriman’s Mall in Georgetown, there were dozens of booths depicting the six food groups on display.
It is an important step forward in the drive towards healthy living and according to Dr. Fitzroy Henry, Director of the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI), the main nutritional problems here are under-nutrition (especially in children) and obesity in adults.
He further stated that since Guyana is ethnically diverse, one of the main challenges is to blend science with culture to make it acceptable to all.
This would be an immense hurdle in that most popular local dishes are not looked upon with favour by nutritionists since these are either too spicy, too sweet or too salt, have too much fat or the other ingredients without which Guyanese foods would not taste so good.
Surveys during 1999-2003 on food consumption, the elderly, physical activity and nursery schools found that the four major problems were obesity, poor diet quality, malnutrition in young children and anaemia/iron deficiency.
The major causes of the problems were found to be sugar, fat and sodium intake, physical inactivity, and alcohol, among others.
So it means that the campaign would have to cut its messages to suit this drive – cut down on sugar, fat, salt and alcohol, and begin jogging or whatever.
It would, in effect, involve a change in lifestyle and the task would be all the more difficult given the tendency of humans to resist changes.
The public relations drive would have to take these factors into consideration so that the launching of the healthy guidelines does not become just another media event.
Healthy eating can lead to better health for all and this would cut down on the immense expenditure incurred by the state in treating people who get ill from not following the established ground rules on what to eat and what to avoid.
Dr. Henry pinpointed this main challenge in the campaign - the promotion and use of these guidelines by all sections of society.
This, he said at the launching, was the most difficult task and proposed that the Ministry of Health work closely with the private sector so that food manufacturers, processors, retailers, restaurants and others can focus attention on particular dietary guidelines in their operations.
He has noted that this should not curtail their quests for financial gain but could be established with public health a principal consideration.
The development of the guidelines must be pursued with special care to ensure that all can derive optimal benefit, he said, and this point cannot be overstressed.
The guidelines are intended to be technical knowledge put into practical messages to help the public make healthy food and dietary choices.
Food choices have been linked to heart and other diseases which have emerged or are emerging as major cause for concern in the health sector around the world and getting the guidelines on the national agenda is a critical step forward.
It is now up to the authorities charged with getting the campaign under way to ensure that the key messages are spread far and wide – and this means getting into even the smallest health outpost in the hinterland of Guyana.