We know that poor diet is at the root of at least half of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart accidents or some cancers and that, in turn, these diseases predispose us to others, such as the pandemic that it's changing normality today.
We also know that when it comes to choosing what we eat, neither children nor adults are as free as we think. Hence the need to have good and solid eating habits from childhood, which accompany and protect us throughout life.
We acquire our eating habits in childhood, at home and at school. These habits will make us have better or worse health and a greater or lesser predisposition to all those serious diseases that I already mentioned, known as "non-communicable" although many are transmitted by excessive consumption of sugar, fat and salt.
We all know that children do not really exercise a right to choose: they eat what their parents or references tell them or allow, what they see that they eat and enjoy their environment, what they are served at school, or what propaganda convinces them .
In the last 10 years, neuroscience has shown us that adults are not as free as we think we are, but that our habits are determined by our cultural environment and advertising. We also know that food generates addictions.
So if we are not so free, habit building is a much more serious matter than it seems. The construction of solid and healthy eating habits for the future of each girl or boy is a matter of interest and a challenge for society as a whole - the State, civil society and the private sector-, because it is about preventing serious future public health challenges.
It is a challenge to ensure that what is healthy is as available to everyone as are some products that are much less recommended, in terms of prices and availability. For that, seasonal fruits and vegetables will always be an ally, but they cannot be the only one.
When it comes to accompanying the construction of healthy eating habits, it is essential that we all have adequate information. This falls largely to the State that is the guarantor, for example, of education (food, in this case) and the regulation of food labeling. The latter must not only be reliable, but must also be accessible and clear to all consumers.
Uruguay's progress towards visible information on packaging that is accessible even to the youngest is currently suspended.
Faced with this reality, we reiterate the willingness of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to accompany the country on the path towards ensuring that its population can exercise full citizenship when choosing their food responsibly, for their health and that of society as a whole.
However, civil society and the private sector also undoubtedly have a key role to play in improving the eating habits of Uruguayans.
All sectors of society are made up of people who feed themselves every day and who should be co-responsible for this great cultural and health challenge that we face.
Perhaps we can reflect on how we eat and what are the consequences that our diet has for our health and what that entails or could entail for our environment.
Then we can think about what we want for the health of our children, nephews and grandchildren in the future and rethink whether, really, giving something very sweet or very salty or very fatty at each visit is the best way to show affection and if not it would be a better legacy to transmit to them the habit of enjoying and sharing what is good for us now and in the future.
By Vicente Plata. Program Officer in Charge of the Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Uruguay.