60th Anniversary Distinguished Public Lecture by Professor Fitzroy Henry Examines Food-Health Nexus on Caribbean Development

Professor Fitzroy Henry, Professor of Public Health Nutrition, College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica makes a point during his Public Lecture on “The Future of the Food-Health Nexus on Caribbean Development,” held on Thursday, October 25, 2018 at the Papine Campus. Seated in the front row from left are Miss Dorcas White, Attorney-at-Law and senior tutor emerita, Norman Manley Law School, Mona Campus, Professor Colin Gyles, Deputy President, Dr. Janet Campbell-Shelly, Dean, College of Health Sciences, Professor Winston Davidson, Head, School of Public Health and Health Technology and Professor Stephen Vasciannie, President.

Professor Fitzroy Henry, Professor of Public Health Nutrition, College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica delivered an engaging and eye-opening presentation on “The Future of the Food-Health Nexus on Caribbean Development,” on Thursday, October 25, 2018 at the Papine Campus.  His lecture was presented as part of the University’s 60th Anniversary Distinguished Public Lecture series.

In his lecture, Professor Henry looked at the real challenges with the food-health nexus in the Caribbean and posited new approaches and strategies needed to fight the challenge of  the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and obesity.

Pointing to the grave statistics linking the food-health nexus, Professor Henry cited alarming data demonstrating that 67% of deaths in Jamaica (2013) are food-related with heart disease/hypertension accounting for the highest amount at 23% followed by cancer – 21%, diabetes, 13% and stroke at 10%.  While acknowledging other lifestyle risk factors associated with NCDs such as pollution, alcohol and occupational hazards, he reported that obesity/overweight rates among the Jamaican adult population have been trending upwards over the last 17 years moving from 45% in the year 2000 to a staggering 60% recorded in 2016, making it the most significant underlying cause of death in the Caribbean.  Professor Henry pointed out that “Jamaica is projected to lose over $77B over the next 15 years from NCDS."   

Sharing some of the lessons learnt from food and health in the Caribbean, Professor Henry noted that we have enough food supply which is above the average requirement for the population.  Jamaica and the Caribbean have also seen a reduction in energy-protein malnutrition.  In contrast, he highlighted that although we have sufficient food, there is a nutritional imbalance of the foods available to us which has caused a rapid increase in obesity and chronic diseases. “The scientific evidence is showing us that we can postpone so many of these deaths from chronic diseases and people can live more productive and health lives,” he said, emphasizing that the opportunity lies in food and nutrition.

Turning his attention to opportunities presented by the prevailing food-health opportunities/challenges, Professor Henry argued that substantial reductions are more likely to come from structural and policy related changes to the food environment rather than from medical interventions. Professor Henry highlighted successful agriculture/food policy models being used regionally and globally to positively impact health and wellness.  Norway for example, he reported, through policy intervention has decreased supply of fats in foods and limited the proportion of sugar in their energy supply. 

Professor Henry who is former Chairman of the Cabinet-appointed national Food Industry Task Force in Jamaica in referencing the Jamaica Food and Nutrition Security Policy (2013) and other interventions, called for a paradigm shift in the country’s food and nutrition targets.  He lamented that Jamaica’s domestic agriculture policy lacks adequate incentives for the production of fruits and vegetables and that the cost of healthy options is unaffordable to many.   He called for a multifaceted approach to combating obesity and NCDS including public education and marketing influences, social and cultural behaviour change and adjustments to agriculture and trade practices and food processing.

A robust question and answer session followed the lecture.  

The Lecture was chaired by Professor Stephen Vasciannie,  President, UTech, Jamaica who recognized Professor Henry as “a strong advocate for public health and nutrition in Jamaica and the region.”  The President noted that the subject matter of the lecture was timely, given Jamaica’s current national campaigns and emerging policy discussions and measures aimed at combatting non-communicable diseases through improved physical activity, healthy lifestyle and nutrition.

Professor Winston Davidson, Head, School of Public Health and Health Technology who introduced Professor Henry pointed to his special career as a teacher which he began in his native Guyana and which he continues here in his adopted home, Jamaica.  Professor Davidson highlighted Professor Henry’s extensive research, publications and advocacy for public health nutrition in the Caribbean including as UTech, Jamaica’s representative to the Advisory Body of the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission and his service as an expert on national panels on nutrition and chronic diseases.

The Vote of Thanks was moved by Dr. Janet Campbell-Shelly, Dean, College of Health Sciences.  She thanked Professor Henry for a very informative lecture, noting that it serves as a continuation of his advocacy for health and nutritional wellbeing in Jamaica and the Caribbean.  Dr. Shelly said that the maxim, “we are what we eat,” serves as an important reminder of the close relationship between what we eat and our health status.


Students engage Professor Henry in a discussion  following his presentation.


Michelle Beckford (Mrs.)
Corporate Communications Manager
University of Technology, Jamaica
Telephone: 970-5299
Email: mbeckford@utech.edu.jm