On International Youth Day, Jamaican youth call on the Government to make youth health and nutrition a national priority
August 12, 2021
The Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), in partnership with the University of Technology Association of Nutrition and Dietetics Students (UTANDS) and the Jamaica Medical Students Association (JAMSA) joins the international community in celebrating International Youth Day 2021. We are excited about this year’s theme - Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.
Young people are in an interesting position when approaching conversations about food, health and wellbeing. They stand to benefit the most from active intervention in this area, but will also suffer the most if their efforts are not taken seriously and actioned by policymakers, legislators, and the institutions with which they interact and which have responsibility for their wellbeing.
JYAN, UTANDS, and JAMSA recognize the complexity of this position and use this opportunity to call for the finalization and implementation of the National School Nutrition and Wellness Policy, accompanied by Nutrition Standards formulated specifically for the local school food environment.
The Policy should, among other things, encourage a diet focused on locally grown produce and other food items that are sustainably manufactured. This will increase access to healthy foods, and create a shift from the nutritionally poor, energy dense diets in schools. It is our hope that this will in turn, transform the poor food habits young people often form in school, and practice throughout their lives. Food policies can modify consumer demand for unhealthy products, especially when formulated effectively to counter the existing environment where schools profit from cafeteria sales and are incentivized to sell products that are unhealthy.
The Policy must also address the harmful effects of advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods to children in ways that don’t allow them to differentiate between what appears appealing, and what is actually beneficial to their health.
The food habits that students develop, combined with inadequate labelling and the advertising push to purchase unhealthy food, put them at risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and hypertension, because the foods they regularly consume are high in unhealthy fats, salt, and added sugars.
Additionally, we call for other supporting policies to encourage an overall healthier food environment including an effective and evidence-based Front-of-Package labelling system that will allow consumers, including youth, to easily identify products that are high in fat, salt and sugar so that they can make informed and healthier food choices.
When we think about transforming our food systems, the voices of young people have to be actively sought and engaged for input. Young people want the National School Nutrition and Wellness Policy implemented, along with other effective policies and programmes that support a healthy food environment. We want to have access to healthy foods so we can live healthy and long lives. We want our government to take us seriously, and not just promise to act when it comes to our concerns. We want to be informed about what is in our food, and actively participate in the process to create a food environment that will not harm us.
We call on the government to engage us and prioritize actions to protect our health and wellbeing as part of efforts to ensure sustainable food systems and a sustainable future for Jamaica.