Public health outreaches showing more than 50% of participants overweight

-food and nutrition forum hears

Dinte Conway

Food and nutrition stakeholders yesterday heard that outreaches have shown increasing obesity.

Director of the Food Policy Division of the Ministry of Public Health Dinte Conway, in presenting a snapshot of the nutrition situation in Guyana, noted that the country is becoming increasingly more obese, with recent outreaches showing more than 50% of participants to be overweight.

She shared figures from research in 2014 that showed that 60% of the population led a sedentary lifestyle, with less than one hour of activity per day. Conway also noted that consumption patterns show Guyanese consuming more fat and carbohydrate and less fruit and vegetable than their required daily consumption.

She explained to Stabroek News that combatting these consumption patterns would require many players coming together in a coordinated fashion to figure out what are the mechanisms to be put in place to ensure that everyone has enough nutrition to make them functional.

“We need to know who are the players, who are the stakeholders, what are the skills and resources available so we’ll know where there are gaps we must fill… agencies such as Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health; anyone involved in nutrition-related activities must collaborate,” she said, while explaining that together they will form a committee whose terms of reference will outline areas for individual action and cooperation.

Guyana’s Food and Nutrition Security Strategy 2011-2020, which was published by the Ministry of Agriculture, notes four types of factors affecting Food and Nutrition Security: National Food Availability, Access, Utilisation and Stability.

The forum yesterday was aimed at establishing a Nutrition Co-ordination Mechanism (NCM) to better implement Guyana’s Food and Nutrition Strategy. The consultation, held in the Boardroom of the National Centre for Education, Resource and Development (NCERD), was organised by the Food Policy Division in collaboration with UNICEF.

Speaking at the opening, UNICEF Representative Sylvie Fouet acknowledged that Guyana has done much to improve nutrition over the last two decades including the implementation of baby friendly hospitals and school feeding programmes. She, however, noted that the challenge remains to maintain these improvements and reach new levels such as those espoused in Sustainable Development Goal two which calls for the complete eradication of all forms of malnutrition.

“If we fail to address the issue of nutrition we run the risk of gaining a generation with a cycle of low health, low performance and challenging development,” Fouet said.

She added that the statistics show that a high level of nutrition is being recorded in Guyana; only 2% of children six to eight months are underweight while other recorded indicators are similarly low, however, some indicators of malnutrition such as anaemia have reached levels of 41% in ante-natal women and 24% in children under 5 so some work still needs to be done.

“These figures could be reduced. The SDGs call for no one to be left behind…Good nutrition demands a coordinated and multi sectoral approach with guidance to all partners to promote common standards, strategies and approaches that you will identify today,” Fouet stated, advising that these approaches be evidence based, gender sensitive, holistic as well as sensitive to cultural  norms.

Minister within the Ministry of Public Health Dr Karen Cummings also acknowledged the importance of nutrition to the creation and maintenance of a productive workforce and stressed that in order to achieve this goal there must be collaboration at several levels.

“We are aware of the need for a coordinated approach to nutrition, one that involves multi-disciplinary inter-sectoral actors working with a unity of purpose to reduce the duplication of effort,” she said, adding that the nutrition status of people is a pertinent public health endeavour as good nutrition leads to good health and better economic returns since healthy people are more productive.

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