By Prossy Nandudu
Food experts are pushing for inclusion of dietary guidelines in nutritional plans in all sectors of government in order to reduce the increase in cases of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
According to Jean Marie-Byakweli, a Policy and Food Systems Advisor at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) are a vital tool that will support nutritional departments in different government agencies to enhance consumer education on healthy diets and providing direction for programs and policies in line with health diets for all.
Officiating at a two-day technical retreat composed of experts from Nutrition, Food Security, Public Health, Food Systems and Agriculture on the 13 to 14 December at Mbale Resort Hotel he explained that Uganda’s Agri food sector doesn’t meet all needs as far as food security and nutrition for all Ugandans is concerned. Some pockets of the country have no food, while some are experiencing nutritional deficiencies such as stunting, estimated at 29%.
And that the absence of guidelines on what kind of food items should be consumed, in what quantities, in what region are some of the reasons why experts decided to meet at the Mbale Resort Hotel to draft food dietary guidelines for Ugandans.
Why the guidelines?
Information availed by FAO shows that in Uganda, there is an increase in the food and beverage markets due to urbanization, increasing population and increasing disposable cash alongside the adoption of modern lifestyles and innovations like door-to-door deliveries.
These have been spiced up with modern trends in restaurants, fast-food franchises, and food delivery apps have made access to such unhealthy foods very easy.
Also the market practices and labelling of such foods have made them lucrative and addictive and yet fastest convenient foods have unhealthy levels of salts, free sugars and saturated and trans fats increasing the risk of being overweight, obese and related health risks, adds FAO findings.
Additional information from the ministry of health indicates that the prevalence of Hypertension and Diabetes among adults is gradually increasing over the years with women having a higher prevalence of 27.7% and 4.7% as compared to males with 26.7% and 4.4% respectively.
Currently, 33% of annual deaths in Uganda are attributed to the five leading NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, Chronic Respiratory Diseases, Mental Health disorders, and Substance Abuse.
This has further been backed by the Global Nutrition Report 2020, that also showed that Uganda has made little improvement in achieving the diet-related targets and by 2016, about 24% of adult females and 9% of 15-49 years of age males were still obese
“Therefore, we need to address the issue of access to health and safe affordable foods in this country, through the Food-based dietary guidelines,” said Byakweli.
He adds that the guidelines are based on foods produced in the country per region and this will further be enforced with the help of extension workers.
According to Byakweli, the guidelines are some of the outcomes of the UN Food systems summit that was convened in Uganda last year to improve the current food systems and one of the recommendations was for countries to have FBDGs to promote healthy foods for a healthy population.
The assistant commissioner in the ministry of health, in charge of nutrition division, Samali Namukose added that most nutrition guidelines available, don’t break down the percentages of what should be eaten and not to be eaten. She further asked stakeholders to simplify the guidelines with more details for consumers, policymakers to understand and also implement them.
To ensure that the guidelines are implemented, she revealed that engagements are ongoing with the ministry of public service for a structure that will provide for positions of nutritionists in various ministry and departments to manage nutritional deficiency challenges.
“We are looking forward to have a structure that provides for positions of nutritionist at various services sector level, we want to ensure that we have adequate human resource that can handle this challenge.