Food habits and health issues

Chronique Hebdo

For the past ten years, the Ministry of Health has undertaken an information and awareness campaign on MBC to sensitize the public on diabetes and cholesterol. Much emphasis has been laid on a healthy lifestyle, proper diet, fat-free food and physical exercise. Overall, it has been most effective in making the public at large more health-conscious and weaning them off a sedentary lifestyle and bad food habits. Doctors and food specialists have also participated in programmes on the national radio to give advice and guidance on health issues.

Fat-free butter, low-calorie food items, salt-free or little salt, whole wheat flour and so on are now current household terms – and soon heading towards gluten-free, hopefully. Incredible as it may seem, it takes years to drive the message home. Successive health ministries have patiently maintained the efforts to combat diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure, diseases which concern every household and have taken a heavy toll nationwide for decades. Giving up old habits is an uphill task for a lot of people. Over 35-year olds believe they can just go on gulping down spoonfuls of sugar in two to three cups of tea a day and stop by for oily street food plus fat-high food at home on a daily basis until they are faced with the disastrous consequences years later.

Notwithstanding all efforts aimed at raising health awareness by ministry officers, there are still too many health disorders and premature deaths due to unhealthy food and drinks as well as lack of physical exercise. Just wonder whether adults who are careless about their own health are fit to counsel their children on what is good for them. Just see how at any time of the day, in private or public eateries, children are given soft drinks. Increasing prosperity and more material comfort today are often expressed in random consumerism of unnecessary stuff one can do without. It is quite known that in small islands around American soft drinks that are widely publicized on billboards and on television contain a higher amount of sugar.

These drinks and other soft drinks are put on the table and served to guests as if that were the most natural thing in the world. Gosh! White sugar is preferred over unrefined brown sugar just as white rice is favoured whereas it is a lot more expensive than unrefined rice. Part of our colonial legacy, no doubt!

However much the government and the media can do to inform and counsel, the onus is on families and the individual’s responsibility to take care of their own health. Those who suffer from diabetes wrongly believe that they should ban sugar completely from their diet. Others have strange ideas about the vegetables that impact on high blood pressure. And even stranger ideas about the different parts of the anatomy and their functioning, and on top of that, have plenty of advice to give to others! For a change in health programmes on television, please add a few courses on anatomy.

No exaggeration in saying that you better avoid discussing a few topics with some of those who may feel discomfort due to high blood pressure if ever they disagree with you, which is often the case. Now the cause of discomfort may not be the capricious blood pressure, but a degree of immaturity of those who are not used to exchanging ideas with others, socializing and listening to others. Emotional immaturity is rampant. Constructive criticism is seen as an attack on inflated egos. Psychologists are likely to be more efficient to address the issue. And it can be useful to high-ranking public officers and ministers when negative publicity sends them rushing to private clinics, and sometimes, on stretchers!

A lot of complaining about stress is aired around to explain rise in diabetes, etc. The core issue is the free time available to relax and find peace after a day’s physical and mental activity. Not only time but also space. Villages are as overcrowded as towns. It is high time for district councils to come up with initiatives and suggestions for green spaces where folks can do exercise and relax in a soothing atmosphere. Yoga is not as widely practised as it should be. If there is an insufficient number of yoga teachers locally, and teachers from India can be a solution.

The other point concerns the multiple-job system which gives little respite to those who choose to tire themselves out to make ends meet and attend to all the needs of the family. When do you stop? – you feel like asking. Life after sixty is a matter of great concern for those who will have to rely only on the Rs 5 000 government pension. Independent manual workers are most hit by loss of income if they stop working.

It seems there is no regulation applying to a few categories of workers which make them contribute to a pension fund and reap the benefits when they reach retirement age.

A lot of complaints over loss of widow’s pension at the age of 60 can be heard. Such laws should be explained to the public and undergo a serious review if deemed necessary. The salary and pension gap is mind-boggling, if anything.

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Organic agriculture non-existent

At the last Salon de l’Agriculture at Pailles, bio products were displayed and drew a lot of attention. The director of one green company admits that totally organic agriculture is non-existent. Okay. Supermarkets take a 30% profit margin on local green products, which makes them costly for consumers.

The trend to use local produce to make a variety of items is most encouraging. A further step in the use of coconut would be to use the fibre as a natural filter for drinking water, a technique which is already used in Europe.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced over 80% of bio-agriculture production in a near future. It would be wise to inform the public right now where pesticide-free produce is currently available around the island. And, by the same token, inform the public on the possibility of buying non-halal meat, an issue which has been ignored up to now. It is no secret that vegetables are better consumed raw or half-cooked. Is the public regularly informed about the dose or overdose of pesticide in vegetables? It is doubtful whether appropriate rules are implemented in the fields on a daily basis. Tomato, which is delicious, has an awful taste in Mauritius.

Indeed, such a variety of vegetables produced locally can be combined in all sorts of salads, and consumed with hardly any oil for the dressing. Old habits of overcooking vegetables die hard. For their own sake, it is up to people to adopt right food habits and avoid health disorders.

Nita Chicooree-Mercier

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