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Understanding Food Labels: Key to Reducing Childhood Obesity Risks

In a proactive move to combat the rising rates of childhood obesity and prevalent diet-related Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the country, the Ghana NCD Alliance has organized a webinar as a strategic initiative under the Healthier Diets for Healthy Lives (HD4HL) Project.

The webinar held on the theme: “Combatting Child Obesity through Front-of-Pack Labelling Policies” provided a platform for discussion and brainstorming of ideas to promote healthier eating habits among the Ghanaian population, particularly among children, by introducing a food labeling policy that will help consumers make informed choices about the products they consume.

In his presentation, Prof. Francis Bruno Zotor, of Public Health Nutrition, University of Health and Allied Sciences, explained that Childhood obesity poses a global health challenge, characterized by the abnormal accumulation of body fat due to calorie imbalance.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there is growing evidence of increasing overweight and obesity among school-aged children.

The concern surrounding childhood obesity is heightened as it is linked to an increased risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a younger age. Additionally, there is a higher likelihood of persistent obesity into adulthood.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there is a growing body of evidence indicating an increase in overweight and obesity among school-aged children (Negash et al., 2017).

Globally, childhood obesity considered a significant health concern, has nearly tripled since the 1970s, affecting 1.9 billion individuals, including 41 million children in 2016. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018, over 340 million children and adolescents were classified as overweight or obese.

A study conducted in urban Ghana focusing on 5-16-year-olds revealed that out of the respondents, 46.9% were overweight, with 21.2% falling into the obese category (Ganle et al., 2019). This underscores the regional and global trends of escalating childhood obesity and highlights the need for effective strategies to address this public health challenge.

The rise in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in both adults and children can be attributed to various factors.

Changes in dietary patterns, characterized by an increased consumption of food high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, coupled with a low intake of fruits and vegetables, play a significant role.

Additionally, factors such as physical inactivity, a rise in sedentary behavior, and inadequate sleep duration contribute to this trend.

Collectively, these lifestyle-related factors underscore the complex nature of the obesity epidemic and the importance of addressing multiple aspects of diet, activity, and sleep for effective prevention and management.

Recommendations for Addressing Childhood Obesity

According to Prof. Francis Bruno Zotor, effectively addressing childhood obesity needs a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach that engages various stakeholders, including families, communities, health care providers, policymakers, and educational institutions.

Stressing that there is a need to support policy initiatives that create a conducive environment for promoting health. This includes policies related to food, physical activity, and overall wellness in schools, communities, and public spaces.

By implementing these recommendations, it is possible to create a holistic and supportive environment that addresses the multifaceted factors contributing to childhood obesity. This collaborative effort aims to instill healthy habits early on, fostering a positive impact on children’s health and well-being.

Importance of food labeling
In his presentation, Mr. Maxwell Bisala Konlan, Senior Dietitian at UG Hospital, Legon, emphasized the critical importance of food labeling. Additionally, he highlighted the necessity of understanding unfamiliar terminologies found on food labels.

According to him, research indicates that food labeling can play a significant role in reducing the risk of childhood obesity.

This is achieved by enhancing consumer knowledge, enabling them to make informed decisions about their purchases.

Moreover, he emphasized that food labeling serves to limit consumers’ exposure to sugary and fatty foods, contributing to a healthier dietary environment.

He pointed out that food labeling serves an essential role in helping consumers identify ingredients that may trigger harmful reactions.

By providing detailed information on the content of food products, labeling enables individuals to make informed choices based on their dietary needs and potential allergens or sensitivities. This aspect of food labeling is crucial for promoting consumer safety and well-being.

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More so, understanding the terminologies and the information can greatly impact healthy dietary habits and contribute to reduced risk of childhood obesity.

The National Coordinator for the Ghana Non-Communicable Disease Alliance (GhNCDA), Mr. Labram Musah, clarified that the initiative is a part of the Healthier Diets for Healthy Lives (HD4HL) Project.

Its objective is to raise awareness about the significance of food labeling policies in promoting public health and preventing or reducing rates of childhood obesity.

Source: Isaac Kofi Dzokpo/mydailynewsonline.com

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