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“Not safe not food, not healthy not food also” Prof. Amos Laar urges Ghanaians to avoid foods that kill

The Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS), Ghana’s premier learned society, held its Annual Lecture in the Sciences, 2023 edition on Thursday, October 5, on the Topic: Food and Public Health. To provide this insightful lecture on a seemingly simple but yet difficult and vexing topic about food, was Professor Amos Laar, a professor at the University of Ghana School of Public Health and a fellow of GAAS.

“What is food?” was the elementary question and the basis of Prof. Laar’s lecture. He explained that the primary function of food is to nourish an organism, so he said, “If it’s not safe, it’s not food, and if it’s not healthy, it’s not good food”. He hammered on the fact that “any food that kills either acutely or chronically is not food; food must not kill”. Real food, as defined by Micheal Pollen, he explained, does not have a long ingredient list and is not what is advertised on television but real food is what our great grandmothers would recognize.

He therefore advised all present to avoid foods that are deemed unhealthy, especially ultra-processed foods (UPF), because they negatively impact our health. He said, “UPF’s are not food, and even if they are, they are not real food”. According to research, consumption of UPFs is associated with a steep decline in mental wellbeing and increased depression and fatty liver disease in adults and adolescents, he added.

Prof. Amos Laar in his delivery acknowledged the work of the World Health Organization in developing guidelines and policies that in shaping our dietary intake. He indicated that food environment policies are needed to inform, influence and empower consumers, policies that incentivize the consumption of health foods as well as policies that discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods.

He then also shared some of the activities he and his team have embarked on in the bid to promote a healthier food environment in Ghana: how context-relevant food environments, the formation of a public interest coalition, the implementation of evidence-informed advocacy and scholar activism he believes have valorized and increased demand for healthy food policy in Ghana. An example is the recent successful advocacy intervention in support of Ghana’s sugar-sweetened beverages taxation.

He also expressed his belief that it is possible to develop and implement food policies that assure a healthier, safer and fairer food environment, and therefore the government not only has the opportunity to act but also the responsibility to do so.

Emerita Professor Isabella Akyinbah Quakyi, chair of the event in her closing remarks congratulated Prof. Laar for all he has done including the parliamentary approval and policies that he and his team have been able to achieve. She reiterated that food and public health are indeed inseparable, and it is possible to make healthy food policies that positively affect people, posterity, and the planet.

Present at the event were Prof. Barry Popkin, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Prof. Anna Lartey, a professor of Nutrition at University of Ghana; Prof. Francis Zotor, a professor of public health Nutrition at University of Health and Allied Sciences; Honarable Sebatian Sandaare, Member of Parliament for Daffiama Bussie/ISSA Constituency, Upper West and member of the Health Committee in Parliament; Prof. Richmond Aryeetey, a professor at University of Ghana School of Public Health and also a fellow of GAAS, Mrs. Mary Mpereh, the Ag. Director of the National Development Planning Commission…

Also present at the event were colleagues from the University of Ghana School of Public, a team from the Food and Drugs Authority of Ghana, students from Accra Academy and Ghanata Senior High School, representatives from some civil society organizations, as well as local and international academic and non-academic partners of Prof. Laar who joined virtually.

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