Jamaica has endorsed the Action Plan to Eliminate Trans-fatty Acids from Industrial Production 2020-2025, which was approved by the 57th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) this week. “The document provides member states with clear objectives, a strategic line of action and targets grounded in sound scientific evidence,” Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton told the Directing Council. For optimal effectiveness, the plan proposes that regulatory policy be “accompanied by other policies and best practices for enforcement, labelling, assessment of progress, and education”.
National Industry Taskforce
Already Jamaica is taking steps on this road, with the establishment, in 2016, of the National Food Industry Taskforce to develop a national strategic action plan for the control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in keeping with the national food-based dietary guidelines. Comprised of diverse stakeholders, including from the private sector, the Taskforce is intended to garner the support of the food sector in helping to combat nutrition-related diseases and to develop a number of comprehensive and strategic activities towards achieving the following:
- food labelling, to include mandatory nutrition labelling on menu boards in chain restaurants and other food outlets;
- food marketing, to include limitation of the sale and sponsorship of unhealthy food products in schools;
- product reformulation, to include mandatory removal of artificial trans fats in all food products; and
- advocacy and communication to include public education and specific stakeholder training on, among other things, the dangers of unhealthy eating and the use of food labels.
The Taskforce was established against the background of a growing number of Jamaicans dying from NCDs and a wave of obesity on the island. Seven out of every 10 Jamaicans die from an NCD each year while one in every three have hypertension, one in every eight have diabetes and one in every two are overweight or obese.
Meanwhile, Minister Tufton told the Directing Council that the work of the Food Industry Taskforce and the progress on lab capacity has provided a useful foundation for what is to come in Jamaica.“This sets the foundation for implementation of a comprehensive programme towards the elimination of industrially-produced trans-fatty acids that will include a public education campaign and assessment of trans-fat concentration in Jamaican foods,” he told the Directing Council.
“We are grateful to PAHO/WHO for their continued technical cooperation in the form of capacity building workshops and guidelines in this area, with particular reference to the drafting of regulations and monitoring and evaluation framework,” he added.
Industrially produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and shortening and are usually present in snacks and baked or fried foods. They were introduced by manufacturers due to their longer shelf life than other fats. Information out of PAHO is that diets rich in trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by 21% and the risk of death by 28%.