Editorial comment – A united front

A view of the Namaka Municipal Market. Picture: REINAL CHAND/FT FILE

We need to be watching what we eat!

In fact, the food we eat could be a factor in whether we contract diabetes, a non-communicable disease, and maybe even some forms of cancers.

Public health physician and epidemiologist Professor Nigel Unwin drove through this message as part of an effort to determine the causes of NCDs in the Yasawa Group recently.

The University of Exerter academic who was working with FRIEND Fiji (Foundation of Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development), said the diseases were prominent causes of death globally.

Diet, he said, was “one of the factors responsible for NCDs”.

With that in mind, that our diet could be a major contributor to NCDs, it makes sense then that changing diets could actually help prevent them.

“One of the really striking things is that over the past 20 years there’s been this increase in food imports and these imports tend to be unhealthy amounts of highly processed or ultra processed foods.”

Food imports, he said, also meant a loss for farmers.

He highlighted the need to focus on how to link improving local nutritious food production as a way of providing more nutritious food to communities.

A World Health Organization report launched last year makes a strong statement about eating healthy food.

People, it states, cannot eat healthy food if unhealthy food is all that is available or a­ffordable.

Behaviour, it said, was hugely aff­ected by the surroundings.

It raises the issue of affordability of food.

There was room for change though, and that would depend on governments playing their part by creating a supportive environment.

We learn that 17 million people under the age of 70 die of NCDs every year.

In Fiji, NCDs account for an estimated 85 per cent of all deaths.

There is hope though for longer and healthier lives if, as the report highlights, “governments live up to their responsibility to create supportive environments that protect people from developing NCDs and provide treatment to manage these diseases and prevent complications for those living with them”.

Action to address the increasing NCD cases begins and ends with leadership.

We live with the fact that there are many people who are living with unhealthy choices.

They have issues to contend with, and many are forced to survive on food that may not be ‘healthy’.

This is where national and international leaders come in, and adds value to the statement that they must use their positions of power to increase the visibility of NCDs.

We raise the issue of health care, and how this should be geared towards highlighting the issue of NCDs, including campaigns that address and overcome them, and the issue of treatment.

We have said this before, that action to address NCD cases is connected to leadership.

We are encouraged by any moves to combat NCDs at all levels of society.

We must consider the issue of tools to fight it, to manage it, and then there is the need for greater consideration of the human resource factor, and how that effectively deals with NCDs in Fiji.

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