More emphasis on diet could mitigate high incidence of illnesses
February 27, 2015
More emphasis on diet could mitigate high incidence of illnesses

Chief Nutritionist in the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment Andrea Robin says that it is extremely difficult for persons to change their eating habits when they reach a certain age, so it is important that children are taught proper eating habits at an early age.{{more}}

She noted also that in St Vincent and the Grenadines, persons need to place more emphasis on their diets, as doing so can mitigate the high incidence of illnesses, including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Robin made the suggestions in an interview from her office in the Ministry of Health on Thursday, February 19, when she also stressed that nutrition is a very important component of public health as nutrition sets the framework for your body, “as you are what you eat.”

This year, the Ministry of Health, is said to be placing a lot of attention on establishing proper eating habits in schools, as according to Robin, “health begins with nutrition.”

She said that a child’s first eating experiences, breast feeding and complementary feeding, go on for a lifetime and while some persons eat for enjoyment, from a health perspective, eating is for formation and maintenance of the human body and for mental health.

“In the household, nutrition is just getting up every morning and deciding what you want to eat. Some of us plan a lot beforehand and many of you don’t and what we would like in the Nutrition Unit is to have a more intentional impact, where people think more about what they eat every day,” said Robin.

She added that the Unit pursues its goal of spreading proper eating habits through many outlets, including media messages and a number of programmes in the health sector.

She said that through surveys and surveillance, they are finding out more and more that specific health problems are related to lack of nutrition, poor nutrition and under nutrition.

Robin said that most persons think that the term malnutrition, only refers only to poor nutrition, but that is not the case, as malnutrition also refers to the effects of bad nutrition, like kwashiorkor, marasmus, wasting and stunting.

She said that in reality, there is a lot of what we call hidden hunger and poor nutrition in St Vincent and the Grenadines, with the major one being iron deficiency/anaemia, specifically in pregnant women, infants and children. She said also that childhood obesity is a problem and many people do not see that as malnutrition, but it is in fact a form of malnutrition.

In attacking these issues, Robin said that different models exist for operation, as a staff of nutritionists, dieticians, community nutrition officers, food service supervisors and other committed workers meet and plan on a daily basis.

She said that these plans are based on the Ministry’s policies and directives, “but we also plan based on what is happening around us, the epidemiology of our people, the different profiles.”

Robin added also that while a lot of data is available for the under-five populations, surveys and surveillance need to be carried out for older age groups, but the main problem is the lack of human resources to do the work.

She added also that as it relates to the older population, they have just completed the national health and nutrition survey, which gave an idea of what adults 18 to 69 are eating.

“Based on this information, we plan intervention programmes in different communities, as well as we work through the Ministry of Health’s primary health care system, working with health centres and anti-natal health and diabetics. We also provide hypertensive clinics to provide medical nutrition therapy and nutrition care to clients who are referred by doctors or nurses,” explained Robin.

She added also that at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH), there is a dietetic department which is manned by a dietician and health care is provided to in-patients and out-patients.

According to Robin, while limited attention is made to walk-ins, efforts are being made to address these people, “but we have limited human resource.”

It was noted during the interview also that a lot of the Unit’s programming is in the area of prevention, but by the time referrals reach the Unit, “it is sometimes very little that can be done, depending on the problem.”

Robin added that they do a lot of work helping persons to manage their conditions.

“We are focussing on the eating habits of students, because it is important to set eating habits when you are young,” stressed Robin who added, “it is difficult for diabetics and people with heart problems in their 50s and 60s to change their eating habits, so that is a problem. It is much more effective to set habits from young and hope they would keep those habits.”

Robin noted that the challenges include the volume of work to be done, compared to the human resource available for use in the Unit, the high cost of fruits and vegetables and the fact that persons do not take certain foods in moderation.

“A lot of persons say I’m going to die anyway, but you do not want to die the way some people are dying right now and don’t want to die before your time and before you have finished providing for your family,” said Robin.

Robin is encouraging persons to pay more attention to what they eat, as well as food labels on imported foods. She is also encouraging more physical activity and the eating of fish.