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NCD crisis: evidence-informed public health policy interventions urgent -Prof. Laar

Amos Laar - Professor of Public Health Nutrition, University of Ghana

NCD crisis: evidence-informed public health policy interventions urgent -Prof. Laar

Amos Laar, a Professor of Public Health Nutrition from the University of Ghana has called for evidence-based policy interventions to reshape food environments and to tackle diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa.

Speaking at the 2024 University of London Centre for Food Policy Symposium in April, he underscored the urgent need for evidence-informed policies to tackle the complex interplay of factors contributing to obesity and malnutrition. He emphasized that understanding and reshaping food environments is crucial for promoting healthier diet and combating the rising burden of NCDs.

He shared  insights into Ghana’s public health nutrition landscape and their food environments research and evidence-informed advocacy that have valorised food environment policies in Ghana.

Through extensive food environment monitoring and research, Laar and his team identified pervasive promotion of unhealthy products, especially targeting children around school environments. This evidence formed the basis of their advocacy efforts, aiming to influence policy changes and curb the consumption of health-harming commodities.

Research initiatives such as the Dietary Transitions in Ghanaian Cities Project, Dietary Transitions in African Cities Project, and the MEALS4NCDs Project have played a crucial role in mapping factors in social and physical food environments that drive consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages.

Through studies like the dietary intake and time use study, photovoice study, systematic review, geographical mapping study, and community readiness mapping study, these projects have shed light on the embedding of unhealthy food and beverages in everyday life and the factors shaping dietary behaviors in urban Africa. These studies have provided evidence that has been curated and made available to Ghanaian researchers, policymakers, and civil society organizations, aiding in stakeholder engagement and the development of policy and advocacy briefs.

Ultimately, this collaborative effort has led to the initiation of the Healthier Diets for Healthy Lives Project, which supports the Ghanaian government in developing and implementing four food-based policies aimed at preventing non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These policies include: Food marketing regulation policies, Food labelling policies, Food related fiscal policies and public food procurement and service policies

“We must address the syndemic of undernutrition, overweight/obesity, and other diet-related NCDs through evidence-informed public health policy and programmatic interventions,” Prof. Laar said.

Prof. Laar further emphasized the significance of sustained dialogue and collaboration, exemplified by initiatives like the Africa Food Environment Research Network (FERN). Through research prioritization and cross-sectoral partnerships, Laar envisions a future where evidence-based policies drive meaningful changes in food environments and public health outcomes across Africa.

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