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September 10, 2018

Nine in ten Jamaicans want government action on obesity

(Kingston, Jamaica and New York, USA) – Nine in ten Jamaicans want swift government action to tackle the country’s obesity epidemic, according to a new public opinion survey. Most (87%) agree that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity and 81% support a tax on sugary drinks if some of the revenues are invested in obesity reduction programs. The survey was conducted by Hope Caribbean in June and July 2018, and the findings were released today at a press event in Kingston by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ), with support from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and global health organization Vital Strategies.

The survey was conducted after HFJ, in collaboration with MOH/Jamaica Moves and with technical support from Vital Strategies, implemented “Are you drinking yourself sick?” – a public education campaign on the health harms of sugary drinks. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents recalled seeing the campaign, which included the ads “Rosie” and “Dad Knows Best.”

Sandra Mullin, Vital Strategies’ Senior Vice President, Policy, Advocacy, Communication said: “This campaign used everyday stories of typical moms and dads to show audiences how they may be harming their health by consuming sugary drinks. High recall rates suggest this resonated strongly with Jamaicans, helping to increase support for evidence-based policies to reduce obesity. We are proud to support the Ministry of Health and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica in their work to create a healthier Jamaica.”

More than three-quarters of Jamaicans (78%) are concerned about the impact of sugary drinks on child health with more than half of parents (54%) saying their children consume most of their intake of sugary drinks at school. More than three-quarters agree that unhealthy foods and drinks should not be sold in schools.

“Our research confirms that Jamaicans are concerned about the impact of unhealthy foods and sugary drinks on their own health and the health of their children,” said Deborah Chen, Executive Director of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. “Evidence has shown that education, while very necessary, will not by itself bring about long term behaviour change. There is overwhelming support for government intervention and strategies, including fiscal policies. Such policies have shown to be more effective in creating lasting behaviour change. Hence, we welcome the restrictions on sugary drinks in schools and urge government to implement more population-level policies, such as taxes on sugary drinks, to help improve the health of all Jamaicans.”

Jamaica’s obesity burden

The Global School Health Survey (2017) of Jamaican adolescents aged 13 – 15 years revealed that 10.3% of boys and 9.9% of girls are obese. This indicator has increased by 68.3% since the same survey was undertaken in 2010. In addition, more than two-thirds of these students reported that they drink carbonated soft drinks at least once a day.

The Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (2016-2017) found that more than one in two Jamaicans (54%) aged 15 years and over were overweight/obese.

Obesity is a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which cause 78 percent of all deaths in Jamaica, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

A study developed in conjunction with WHO and UNDP estimates that Jamaica’s economy will lose over 77.1 billion Jamaican dollars between 2017 and 2032 due to the costs of cardiovascular disease and diabetes complications alone.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health expert, please contact press@vitalstrategies.org.

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