Not long ago, the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde published an article by journalist Maite Maria Jimenez written on the occasion of the 16th Latin American Congress of Nutrition, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention recently held at the Havana International Conference Centre.
In this article, Dr. Mercedes Esquivel, senior researcher at the Department of Human Growth and Development of the University of Medical Sciences in Havana, declared that “the growth and development of Cuban children shows a negative trend: an increase in overweight.” The doctor believes that this tendency is “largely determined by the environment in which they grow.”
Poor eating habits of Cuban children are influenced by various factors. First, the low income of Cuban families, which is not sufficient to provide food variety. After years of shortage of vegetables, fruits and cereals, the youngest generation has not developed the habit of eating these foodstuffs. But it’s not only that. There are families that have no access to convertible pesos, which would allow them to buy milk, cheese, meat, cereals or grain sold at exorbitant prices in dollar shops.
Children of working mothers at primary schools can buy a lunch for 7 pesos a month, but it’s insufficient and poorly made. The menu at school canteens is written on a blackboard and hardly ever changes. Teachers and principals often recommend parents to supplement their children’s lunch with some other food.
Snacks given to children usually consist of bread and croquettes, bread and spread or bread with sausage, plus a drink.
When children start attending secondary school, which is around the age of twelve, there’s no longer designated lunch time for them and they are not allowed to go out. Instead, they are given “pan con frita” (a kind of hamburger) and a cup of soy yoghurt.
For over fifty years, the ration book has not provided for this sensitive sector of the population. When children reach the age of three, they are excluded from the quota of thirteen monthly jars of purée a month. Tiny jars of Gerber baby food (71g) can be obtained in dollar shops as a substitute; yet, their price is approximately 70 cents CUC. At the age of seven, children stop receiving the ration of milk. Instead, families are offered twelve bags of soy yoghurt a month until their children reach fourteen. However, many parents complain that the supplies of the latter are delayed or sometimes even stopped without any explanation. The situation gets even worse in summer since the trucks transporting the foodstuffs are not refrigerated and the goods often get spoiled.
Lately, the ration book has also denied children one pound of chicken a month and a half pound of spiced minced meat. Instead, they have been offered a pound of minced beef (with little or no content of meat and lots of skin) and a half pound of Bologna sausage. Many parents complain that children refuse to eat it.
To make things worse, the price of a pound of beans has climbed up to 18 – 20 Cuban pesos. It’s clear that the times when beans, which formed an indispensable (and almost the only) part of the Cuban diet along with rice, are over.
Every day, a growing number of Cubans realizes that being fat is no longer beautiful nor it is a sign of being healthy. It’s a pity that in the environment where we live, eating (let alone eating healthily) has become so difficult.