Ghanaian diets undergoing nutrition transition

An international team of researchers, led by the University of Sheffield, are helping prevent diseases such as obesity in Ghana, after identifying key factors driving a change towards an unhealthy diet.

The pioneering study involving over 300 people from two Ghanaian cities, found that rapid changes – partly caused by the migration of people from rural areas to urban cities – has led to an increase in the consumption of unhealthy food, increasing the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The findings from the study are now being considered by the Ghanaian government to develop policies and raise awareness of the effect an unhealthy diet can have on health.

The study also identified social and environmental factors that effected food choices, including family and friends, poor sanitation and the cost of food. These were determined by asking the participants to take photos of their environment and influences.

Principal investigator of the study, Professor Michelle Holdsworth, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “The engagement throughout from the local communities in Ghana and the government has made it possible for the research team to generate the evidence needed to prevent diseases associated with unhealthy diets, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“Diets are changing globally and dietary transition is now happening in most cities of the global south, including Africa, where people’s habits are changing from a traditional plant-based diet, to a diet that is high in processed convenience foods.”

The research has been conducted in collaboration with the University of Ghana, the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ghana, Loughborough University, University of Liverpool and the French Agricultural Research and International Cooperation Organization (CIRAD).

Dr Amos Laar, of the University of Ghana’s School of Public Health and Co-Led Researcher for the Accra and Ho study sites, said: “The government in Ghana and its stakeholders need to develop and implement interventions that work and are supported by strong local evidence.

“I am optimistic that the actions proposed will be implemented by the Ghanaian government. When implemented, the Ghanaian food environment will be impacted positively.”

The project was funded by a grant from the Drivers of Food Choice (DFC) Competitive Grants Programme which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DFID), and managed by the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, USA, as well as the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), managed by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC).

DFC supports new research on understanding food choice among low and middle-income countries, strengthening country-level leadership in nutrition and fostering a global community of food-choice researchers. The GCRF is part of the UK government global development assistance package, and it aims to support cutting-edge research and innovation to address issues faced by developing countries.

Professor Francis Zotor, from the University of Allied Health Sciences and fellow Co-Lead Researcher for the Accra and Ho study sites, highlighted how local communities in Ghana faced a double burden of disease.

“I am hopeful that the findings from this research will be taken back to the communities to further enhance awareness of the effect of consumption of unhealthy dietary diet on our health.”

Dr Robert Akparibo, Co-Investigator of the project from the University of Sheffield, said: “The collaborative study has 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.

“The findings 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.”

The key findings from the research, which has been summarised into a policy brief and shared with key stakeholders including Ghanaian policy makers, will now be considered and used to developed evidenced-based policies and interventions to improve good dietary practices and eating behaviours to prevent the risk of dietary related non-communicable diseases.

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