A National Infant and Young Child Feeding Policy is one of three food policies that should be approved by Cabinet by this year end.
Director of policy in the Ministry of Health, Sandra Graham — answering questions amout the National Nutrition Policy during a meeting of the Sessional Select Committee on Human Resources and Social Development in downtown Kingston last Thursday — said the concept paper for the policy has been drafted and is to be put to Cabinet shortly.
"In fact, we have already drafted the policy so it's just to present the concept paper to the Cabinet. So the concept paper has to go first. There are steps in the policy process that we must observe and if we don't observe them, they are going to send this document back to us from the Office of the Prime Minister; but I see no reason why we can't have that policy approved by the end of this calendar year," Graham told the committee. She, however, pointed out that the "fact that we haven't passed the policy doesn't mean there aren't things we can do now".
In the meantime, Graham — who had been fielding specific questions on the issue from Central Kingston member of Parliament and Opposition spokesperson on Education Ronald 'Ronnie' Thwaites — said drafts have been completed for the promised National Nutrition Policy which is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Food Security Policy coined by the ministers of agriculture, industry and commerce, and health.
"So for the three policies, the drafts are completed. I am agreeing that those three policies must be completed this calendar year," she said in an answer to Thwaites' insistence that the policies are 'stuck in bureaucracy'.
Thwaites, who last Thursday voiced concern over the "palpable problem of obesity and malnutrition" being faced by the country, had from as far back as 2008 urged debate in the House on the need for a national nutrition policy as well as a review of the existing public school nutrition programme. In the motion, Thwaites said he made the call against the background of evidence that significant numbers of Jamaican children do not have a diet conducive to good performance in school and in sports due to the lack of information or resources. He also made the call on the basis of what he said was the international movement to review and upgrade the content of public and private school nutritional offerings.
According to Thwaites, the issue of adequate nutrition in schools should be placed in the context of a national nutrition policy as an urgent matter affecting public health and productivity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, has said that child feeding is a fundamental part of care for childhood development. According to the WHO, about 30 per cent of children under five worldwide are stunted as a consequence of poor feeding and repeated infections. It said even in resource-poor settings, improved feeding practices can lead to improved intakes of energy and nutrients, leading to better nutritional status.
The WHO's Global Strategy aims to renew efforts to promote, protect and support appropriate infant and young child feeding. The strategy calls for all governments to develop and implement a comprehensive policy on infant and young child feeding, in the context of national policies for nutrition, child and reproductive health, and poverty reduction. It further insists that all mothers should have access to skilled support to initiate and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for six months and ensure the timely introduction of adequate and safe complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years or beyond among other things.