The University of Ghana, UHAS, and International partners disseminate research findings to promote healthier diets in Ghana

Although preventable, obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases (DR-NCDs) are a major global public health problem, especially in low and middle-income countries. Reducing obesity and DR-NCDs remains an urgent task. In 2016, an estimated 100 million children and 650 million adults were overweight or obese, globally. In Ghana, research data showed that urban dwellers & women are most affected: overweight / obesity among Ghanaian women increased by about one-third in a decade (from 25% in 2003 to 40% in 2014). Increasingly, populations are exposed to unhealthy eating situations and practices that increase their risk of obesity and disease.

In response, the University of Ghana, in collaboration with University of Sheffield, Loughborough University, and University of Liverpool (all from the UK), University of Health and Allied Sciences (in Ghana) African Population and Health Research Center (in Kenya), and the French Agricultural Research & International Cooperative Organization (in France) implemented two complementary research projects: the Dietary Transitions in Ghanaian Cities (DFC), and the Dietary Transitions in African Cities (TACLED).

These projects commenced in 2017 and have investigated what behaviours and situations drive unhealthy dietary changes in African cities, with focus on Ghana and Kenya, in order to prevent diet-related diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. A component of the project assessed Ghanaian government intentions and actions to improve the food environment and to control obesity, and diet-related diseases (NCDs). To implement this, the research team worked closely with relevant government agencies.

Dr Amos Laar, Co-Principal Investigator and University of Ghana Lead noted in his welcome address that, the exercise is a special activity for those who work in the field of nutrition, but should be important to everyone, since health is a matter that concerns all of us.

Participating in the dissemination event were representatives of various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), representatives of United Nations agencies, local and international NGOs, and academics/researchers.

The Principal Investigator of the projects, Professor Michelle Holdsworth, University of Sheffield, UK thanked all the different stakeholders in government, academia, associations and the local communities in James Town and Ho-Dome, who had all engaged with the research projects so enthusiastically over the last two years.

Dr. Robert Akparibo, Co-Investigator of the projects, University of Sheffield, UK who presented key findings from the aspect of the project that assessed existing evidence on Ghanaians dietary behaviour and practices, revealed that Ghanaian diets are transitioning with relatively high consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks, particularly sugar sweetened beverages, and less consumption of fruits and vegetables.  He highlighted the need for interventions and policies to promote healthy eating among the Ghanaian population to halt the increasing prevalence of dietary-related non-communicable diseases in the country. 

Dr. Richmond Aryeetey of the University of Ghana School of public health and an investigator with the project presented findings on key factors influencing food choice. He highlighted the importance of the price of food and families and social relationships as important drivers of what and where people eat.

Miss Senam Klomegah, a research assistant on the project made a presentation on where foods are sold and the various advertisements present in Ghana. She mentioned that there was the need to regulate the location of advertisements due to the dominance of unhealthy food and beverage adverts.

Prof Francis B. Zotor, Co-Principal Investigator and University of Health and Allied Sciences Lead noted in his presentation on Community Readiness to improve the healthiness of diets that, community leaders must agree to work across sectors to implement community-based interventions. He stressed the urgent need to address the consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages particularly among women and adolescent girls.

Dr. Kobby Mensah, of the University of Ghana Business School, and Co-Investigator of the Project, noted that the country needs some of this rigorous multidisciplinary research in other to ensure accelerated advancement in its quest for innovative solutions to our problems, especially in the area of health care.

Emphasising on the identified priorities for policy and interventions to improve the Ghanaian food environment, Dr. Amos Laar indicated that a panel of local government, and non-government experts jointly identified gaps, proposed 27 actions, and prioritized them to be of higher importance and feasibility for the Ghanaian government to implement. The top four prioritized actions (below) relate to Food Promotion and Funding.
1. The Government should pass legislation to regulate the promotion, sponsorship, advertisement and sale of food and drink with added sugars, and other nutrients of concern (saturated fatty      acids/trans fats, salt) in the school environment and other child-laden settings, enforceable with fines.
2. The Government should enforce legislation to regulate the promotion, sponsorship, advertisement and sale of food and drink with added sugar, and other nutrients of concern (saturated          fatty acids/trans fats, salt) in print and electronic media, enforceable with fines.
3. The government should ensure that sufficient and transparent funding is allocated to nutrition, particularly promotion of healthy eating.
4. The government should allocate adequate funding for locally-relevant research on nutrition and NCDs, including obesity and related health and social inequalities

The Director of the Ga Mashie Development Agency (GAMADA), Nii Teiko Tagoe, bemoaned society’s failure to eliminate long-held negative socio-cultural norms that militate against efforts to confront malnutrition. 

Ms. Akosua Kwakye, National Program Officer, Nutrition (World Health Organization, Ghana Country Office) stressed the need for all stakeholders to deploy actions that address both undernutrition and overnutrition.

A representative from the Ministry of Health, Ms. Lovette Yorke thanked the researchers for generating such policy-influencing data. She noted that the Ministry needs such evidence to ensure that its policies are evidence-based and responsive to the needs of the citizenry.

Funding acknowledgment
The Dietary Transitions in Ghanaian Cities Project is one of the Drivers of Food Choice (DFC) Competitive Grants Program, which is funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and managed by the University of South Carolina, Arnold School of Public Health, USA.

The TACLED project was funded by a Global Challenges Research
Fund Foundation Award led by the MRC, and supported by AHRC,
BBSRC, ESRC and NERC, with the aim of improving the health and
prosperity of low and middle-income countries.

For further details, contact Dr. Amos Laar, or +233244982176