A study published this week in the Food Policy Journal, by a team of local and international researchers, has identified priority recommendations to support government policy action towards creating healthier food environments in Ghana.
The top policy actions recommended for government action by the national expert panel include legislation to regulate advertising and sale of unhealthy food in children’s settings and the media, as well as providing sufficient funding for nationally relevant research on nutrition and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Other recommended priority actions to create healthier food environments in Ghana included fiscal policy interventions such as increasing taxes on unhealthy foods and implementing subsidies to increase the affordability of healthy foods. These recommended priority actions provide a feasible and realistic starting point for improving the food environment and controlling nutrition-related NCDs in Ghana.
This study is the first in Africa to successfully apply the Healthy Food-Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI), developed by the International Network for Food and Obesity/NCD Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS). The Food-EPI tool and associated process can help to identify critical gaps in national policy action and support the identification and prioritization of actions to address them, by comparing national performance with international best practices.
All around the world, effective government policies are essential to increase the healthiness of food environments and reduce rising levels of overweight, obesity, and related NCDs. Monitoring the level of implementation of policies and actions is an important part of ensuring progress towards better population nutritional health. The Food-EPI tool has been applied in many countries including New Zealand, Canada, England, Australia, Malaysia, and Mexico.
The Ghana Food-EPI study assessed government actions and intents, implementation gaps, and priorities to improve the food environment compared to international best practices. A national expert panel comprising government and independent experts in nutrition, food, and health policy conducted this assessment. Forty-three good practice indicators of food environment policy were used, with ratings informed by systematically collected evidence of action validated by government officials.
The policy indicators covered food composition, food labelling, food promotion, food prices, food provision in schools and other public-sector settings, food in retail, and food trade & investment. Other indicators covered leadership, governance, monitoring and evaluation, funding, platforms for interactions; and health-in-all-policies.
As part of efforts to build on the recommended priority actions from the Ghana Food-EPI rating exercise and support public sector actions that create healthy food environments in Ghana, a new study led by researchers at the University of Ghana is underway. This study focuses on food promotion (marketing to children restrictions), and food provisioning (e.g. improving school nutrition policies/environment). The current study is code-named MEALS4NCDs Project, which stands for ‘providing Measurement Evaluation, Accountability and Leadership Support (MEALS) for NCDs prevention’.
The Ghana Food-EPI study was part of the Dietary Transitions in Ghanaian Cities Project implemented in Ghana from 2017 to 2019.