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Have you heard about front-of-package warning labels (FOPWL) for foods high in sugar, salt and fats? These are foods that can cause non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are responsible for 78 per cent of deaths in Jamaica.
Sadly, 36 per cent of Jamaican children between 13 and 15 are overweight or obese, estimates the World Health Organization (WHO), with obesity increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Enabling children and adults in their lives to therefore make informed decisions about what foods they are consuming is therefore critical for their lifelong health. These efforts can reverse trends in overweight and NCDs in fulfilment of the right of our children and young people to highest standard of health.
Best-performing way to help Jamaican consumers
That’s why UNICEF and other partners continue to support The Heart Foundation of Jamaica in lobbying to ensure that octagonal front-of-package warning labels are introduced. According to a 2021 study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the University of Technology (UTech) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), these labels perform best in helping Jamaican consumers make healthier food choices.
Recently, UNICEF, together with PAHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), held an information sharing workshop for local and regional advocates to learn about experiences from other countries in Latin America where front-of-package warning labels have already been implemented. We spoke to two young advocates – Shannique Bowden, Executive Director, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), 26, and Rosanna Pike, Health Education Officer, Global Health Advocacy Project, The Heart Foundation of Jamaica, 29 – who are pushing for that change here in Jamaica, which is supported by 92 per cent of Jamaicans, according to an Obesity Prevention Public Opinion Survey in 2019.
Why do you think we need FOPWL in Jamaica?
Rosanna: We need front-of-package warning labels in Jamaica as a measure to help reduce the prevalence of NCDs as well as obesity, and especially as it regards to safeguarding our children’s health. So at least we can do it for them, to protect the future of Jamaica. Essentially, as consumers, we need an easier way to identify foods that might have detrimental effects on our health, and FOPWL help us to make healthier food choices and reduce our risk of those harmful effects.
Shannique: Because people have a right to know! It is a way to make sure that consumers are getting information in an easy, concise way. The front-of-package warning labels eliminate the questioning and trying to understand what is meant by the nutrition labels that we see on the back of most packages, by just putting the relevant information at the forefront. In the same way as we promote items which are high in certain vitamins, or antioxidants which are good for us, we should let consumers know when something is harmful, whether it is high in fat, high in sugar, or high in salt.
What do you think is needed to move Jamaica forward?
Rosanna: Moving forward, I think that we need a more comprehensive approach. We definitely need to identify more champions going forward. We need like a multifaceted approach to get more persons on board and amplify our messages and our cause and to say, “Hey, we are not doing this just for ourselves, but for the health of our nation!”
Shannique: What’s next for Jamaica is that we simply need to make a choice. We have seen from discussions what other countries like Peru suggested that they have implemented for the last 12 years. We are at the phase where we are just beginning, and I think it is important for us to take necessary steps to start. We also have upstanding research which tells us which labels are performing better.
Your message for Jamaican youth?
Rosanna: I implore all Jamaican youth to support our advocacy initiatives for the FOPWL. If you’re interested, get on board. Reach out to UNICEF Jamaica, Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Healthy Caribbean Coalition or JYAN. Any representative from any of these organizations would be more than willing to hear your concerns and what you are passionate about, especially when it relates to the health of our youth and younger population. This is as a means of helping to amplify our messages, strengthen our efforts and to make a difference and a change.
Shannique: Get in the know, there is information out there so be aware of what is happening, and use your own platforms to amplify your voice. As young people, we do have a powerful voice, we are the future so we should definitely use the opportunity that we have to share with others and to ensure the policymakers know that we care – and we watch them make decisions which would positively impact us!
What's UNICEF doing?
UNICEF Jamaica supports The Heart Foundation of Jamaica’s “Protect Our Children’s Health” mass media campaign and other activities to raise awareness about the health harms of foods high in salt, fat and sugar and the importance of implementing octagonal warning labels to create a food policy environment that supports healthy nutrition and healthier food choices for children and young people. We continue to work with partners to amplify youth voices and advocate for octagonal warning labels to combat obesity and NCDs and protect the rights of our citizens - children, young people and adults - to safe, nutritious food and information to make healthier choices. Youth can participate in polls and other activities provided via our social messaging service U-Report or visiting our partner pages: The Heart Foundation of Jamaica, on Instagram and Facebook @heartfoundationja.