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Processed foods are not the cause of obesity, says Panamanian expert

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Processed foods are not the cause of obesity, says Panamanian expert

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 13:11

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The Panamanian expert in food technology, Omaris Vergara, dismisses the myth that processed foods are the cause of obesity in Panama and worldwide, and believes that it is recommendable to accept that sedentary life and lack of physical activity are the real causes of obesity.

Vergara said in an interview with Acan-Efe that in the issue of obesity and malnutrition it is "very important" the labeling of nutrition, but warned that "not only is putting a label on the food," it is also necessary to educate the population in food consumption".

"And that they lose that fear that the processed food is the cuckoo, it is necessary to know how to select the type of food people should consume," she said.

Vergara presided over the 20th Seminar held in Panama last March by the Latin American and Caribbean Association of Food Science and Technology (ALACCTA), where, she said, the audience was explained that "the so-called ultra-processed foods are not exclusively the cause of the global problem of obesity".

According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 58 percent of Latin Americans and the Caribbean, about 360 million people are overweight, while 23 percent (140 million) suffer from obesity.

Vergara said that there is intention to make people see that "the cause of obesity in people and of the high incidence of obesity is due to the consumption of processed foods".

She said that "processed foods have come to solve a world situation to avoid spoiling food. Technology has emerged to preserve food for longer and to make them reach the cities".

"It is not a matter of which food is the cause of obesity, it is the selection that we make of them, the consumption of unbalanced diets, the lack of physical activity, not walking," she said.

And it is seen here in Panama, "People take the bus and they want it to leave them at the stop of the building where they’re going to get off, it's a sin to have to walk a block or two because it's too far away. People refuse to do physical activity".

At this point, she noted that in addition to Panamanians "we are very gluttonous" and have wrong eating habits, there is also the problem that "here in Panama we do not have a standard of nutritional labeling".

She explained that another problem is that due to lack of consensus among the parties, such as Health, Trade and Industry authorities and also important distributors, Panama has not yet adopted the Central American technical labeling regulation.

Therefore, she warned that "if we do not have a regulation on food labeling, how are we going to adopt a nutrition labeling regulation, since they complement each other".

"I cannot have nutritional labeling if I do not even have a standard (technique) on how to comply with it, on how to make a label, what the label should contain," she said.

In that sense, Vergara - food engineer and director of the School of Food Sciences and Technology of the University of Panama in the Regional Center of the central province of Coclé - highlighted the initiative of the Panamanian deputy Athenas Athanasiadis to present a preliminary bill on this matter.

Athanasiadis, of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), introduced last April the Bill 198 "that establishes the obligation to show content on nutritional information in food" and other provisions for health care.

Vergara - with 28 years of teaching, research and support in academic matters of the National Committee of the Codex Alimentarius (compendium of internationally accepted food standards) - said that she reviewed the bill introduced by Athanasiadis but does not believe that the topic of labeling will be achieved through a law, "it is not the way".

"We have to adopt regulations already existing in Central America, it is not that we are obliged to adopt them, but at least the labeling of pre-packaging and then the labeling of nutrition" as an important part of a State policy, in addition to other measures in terms of health and education, she said.

The explanatory statement of the bill introduced by Athanasiadis states that a 2014 Ministry of Health study shows that obesity is the tenth disease in Panama.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in Panama, 62.2 percent of the adult population suffers from overweight and 26.8 percent from obesity, "a condition that leads to serious health risks".



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