Renowned public health advocate Sir George Alleyne has called on those involved in the push to have front of package warning labels on all processed foods to step up the fight.
Speaking during Thursday’s collaborative launch of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados Inc and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica’s mass media campaign on Front of Package Warning Labels, Sir George encouraged the organizations to go one step further in their bid to have it passed as legislation.
Sir George, the Director Emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the patron of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, urged them to agitate peacefully for this worthy cause.
He said evidence had shown that the octagonal, “high in”, front of package warning labels were most effective at informing shoppers of the contents of products.
Sir George maintained that people needed to know what was in their food to maintain healthy lifestyles, while noting that the current warning labels situated at the back of products were being ignored in most cases.
“Information is not enough,” he said. “Of course you may have all the public informed for the benefits of these labels but unless these labels are on the packages that information is useless, so, therefore, I would strongly suggest that a lot of the attention given is to how you get the policy makers to make that information available on the packages.
“I’m going to suggest that there are three things that we all have to bear in mind; communicate, educate and agitate. I think it is very necessary to have the public informed of our agenda about the importance of front of package labels, but I would like to see the call-in programmes flooded with questions about front of package warning labels. I’d like to see your MPs [member of parliaments] have hundreds of letters from you about the need for front of package warning labels. Agitate but don’t violate,” Sir George said.
The veteran physician and medical educator declared that the decision-making architecture of public health in the region was broken and contended that not enough attention was being paid to public health issues.
“It is quite clear that attention in regional decision-making is not paid adequately to issues of public health importance and I think it is time that included in our advocacy is the need to revisit the decision making architecture as far as public health issues are concerned,” Sir George said.
Additionally, Sir George suggested that the plight of people living with NCDs [non-communicable diseases] should be highlighted more.
He said while he understood the reason for much of the focus being placed on people who had died from NCDs, it is the living who are ideally placed to tell their stories.
“We speak so much of the number of deaths that take place because of NCDs,” said Sir George. “I want us to place equal emphasis on the people living with NCDs. Those people who are alive are much more important than the people who are dead from NCDs. So though the morbidity is important I would ask that we pay a little more attention to the people who are living with NCDs, incorporate them into your narrative. (RB)