Thu | Apr 15, 2021

Label warning new frontier against NCDs

Published:Thursday | April 8, 2021 | 12:24 AMJonielle Daley/Staff Reporter

Public health personnel across the Caribbean are lobbying for octagonal front-of-package warning labels as part of a campaign to stem child obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, alongside other CARICOM member states, has been in support of the campaign, launched last month by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Commission, and UNICEF.

Dr Fabio DaSilva Gomes, who delivered the research findings from a PAHO study, shared that the octagonal sign was tested against four other warning systems for front-of-packaging labelling and was proven to be the most effective.

“Consumers do not engage in extensive cognitive efforts, they minimise both error and effort when they are in their purchasing situations, and this is even more important when it comes to repetitive purchase situations, which is the case for food,” he said, explaining that the system needs to be easy, quick and relevant to ultimately change the dietary habits.

The octagonal warning is the same shape as the universal stop sign and was eight per cent more effective than a rectangle and 60 per cent more useful than a magnifying glass, based on the findings from research conducted in Australia, the United States, New Zealand, and other countries.

Gomes said it assisted people at all levels to make the right choice.

Front-of-package warning offers immediate details on salt, sugar or fat data which might be missed when placed at the back.

UNICEF representative for the Eastern Caribbean, Dr Aloys Kamuragiye, said that ill-labelling has led to child obesity, among other early-onset NCDs common among children in the region.

“This is a human-rights and, specifically, a child-rights issue,” he said, noting that the Convention of the Rights of the Child recognises that all children are entitled to the right to healthy foods and adequate nutrition.

Thus, signatories to the convention have the obligation to ensure children have access.

One in three children in the Caribbean region is overweight or obese. This is the highest in the world.

The group is imploring countries and bureaux of standards to vote for front-of-package nutritional warning standard to facilitate healthier food decisions. The campaign was launched on social media and on radio in CARICOM member states. Voting to implement the labelling warning as a regional standard will end on April 17.

Front-of-package labelling is the first in the Caribbean Pubic Health Agency six-point policy presented in 2017 to promote healthy diets, food security, and sustainable development.

Last year, almost half of the deaths in the Caribbean were caused by NCDs.

In 2017, approximately 4.7 million years of quality of life were lost in the Caribbean because of premature deaths and recovery time from people with NCDs, said Trevor Hassell, president of the HCC.

jonielle.daley@gleanerjm.com