While the efforts of this country to combat malnutrition have been recognised internationally, it must also guard against obesity, the Food and Health Organisation (FAO) says.
And, Director General of the FAO, José Graziano da Silva, said earlier this month that while malnutrition is decreasing, obesity and other diseases related to malnutrition are on the rise internationally.
He said striking a balance between the two is a very important question for the region and most developed countries.
da Silva, who was on an official visit to this country, said genetics can contribute to obesity.
But he said the two main reasons for obesity are the change of habits in urban population, and the neglect of local production by countries that have other sources of income, such as oil, minerals and tourism.
“So they give up producing their own food. They don’t want anymore to eat mangoes and cassava and dasheen and other local products and import more and [more] wheat,” he said, adding that food imports is one of the largest imbalances in the Caribbean,” he said.
“The import bill has been rising very quickly, even to provide food for the tourists. It is unbelievable that more tourists are coming in and we are importing more food for the tourists, when we have potential to do it internally and also to provide them different food,” da Silva said during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
The FAO official said his organisation is doing a lot to tackle this problem and will, in November, have a preparatory meeting on nutrition for a conference next year with the World Health Organisation.
“We hope that in this conference we will come out with a comprehensive framework to deal with this obesity issue,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr J.R. Deep Ford, sub-regional co-ordinator of the FAO, said the FAO has been and is developing, in several of its members states, dietary guidelines linked to domestically produced food.
He said this is a very important part of the school-feeding programme, adding that his organisation wants to develop lifelong improved food choice changes and have to work with the youth and the young at all levels.
“We cannot be speaking about this challenge without recognising also the impact on the macro economy, and that is the health bill that devolved from NCDs, etc. So good food choices, utilisation of domestic products are very critical to solving what is fundamentally a health problem,” he said.
He said the fastest-growing component of the food import bill is processed foods.
“And that, in itself, is indicative of the rising problem that we have with obesity, the dependence on processed food, and we are importing those into our country,” Ford said.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines was in June recognised for halving malnutrition ahead of a 2015 target set by the United Nations.