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Stakeholders call for legal and regulatory interventions to promote healthier diets, and physical activity in Ghana

The consultations, held on March 11, 2024, stressed the vital need for regulatory and fiscal interventions to combat the rising burden of NCDs, which account for 43% of all deaths in the country.

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 In a collaborative effort to address the pressing challenge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Ghana, a consortium of civil society organizations (CSOs) led by CAPHA (Coalition of Actors for Public Health Advocacy), local academic institutions convened at the School of Public Health, University of Ghana in Accra to deliberate on strategies promoting healthier diets and physical activity.

The consultations, held on March 11, 2024, stressed the vital need for regulatory and fiscal interventions to combat the rising burden of NCDs, which account for 43% of all deaths in the country.

The gathering was co-organized by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO)  and the University of Ghana, School of Public Health, and brought together 19 participants, including representatives from CSOs, academia, and international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). With a focus on promoting evidence-informed policy advocacy, the consultations aimed to identify ongoing initiatives, gaps, and opportunities for advancing regulatory and fiscal measures to promote healthy diets and physical activity.

 Participants highlighted the alarming rise in overweight and obesity rates in Ghana, fueled by unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. The consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods, including sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), emerged as a significant contributor to diet-related NCDs.

The discussions spotlighted the role of the Global Regulatory & Fiscal Capacity Building Programme (Global RECAP) in supporting countries like Ghana to develop, adopt, and implement evidence-based interventions. Through capacity building, social mobilization, and research, Global RECAP aims to strengthen regulatory and fiscal measures targeting NCD risk factors.

For their part, Civil Society Organizations showcased their extensive capacity in advocacy, community education, and sensitization efforts related to NCD prevention. While CSOs have actively engaged in certain policy areas such as restrictions on food marketing to children and nutrition labeling, challenges persist, including limited legal expertise and industry interference.

Academic institutions including the University of Ghana, demonstrated robust capacity in teaching and researching NCD prevention, particularly in public health and nutrition disciplines. However, the integration of legal approaches into curricula and collaboration between legal and public health communities emerged as areas for improvement.

Introducing the Healthier Diets for Healthy Lives (HD4HL) Project to the meeting,  Amos Laar, a Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Ghana, highlighted the critical role of comprehensive policy measures in driving positive changes in food environments. The HD4HL Project is an ambitious initiative aimed at reshaping Ghana’s food environment to combat the dual challenges of malnutrition and NCDs. 

He emphasized the importance of governments implementing a mix of low-agency and high-agency food environment policy measures. These measures range from “inform and empower” strategies to “guide and influence” interventions, as well as “incentivize, discourage, or restrict” actions. By adopting such measures, governments can shape food environments to promote healthier dietary choices. The project is supporting the government of Ghana to develop a nutrient profiling system, which will then be applied in four food-based policies: front-of-pack labelling, marketing restrictions, public food procurement, and food-related fiscal policies.

He argued that through strategic and immediate actions, these actors can counteract the import, production, processing, retail, and marketing of unhealthy foods. This, in turn, would lead to reduced availability, accessibility, and consumption of unhealthy diets, thereby mitigating the burden of NCDs and malnutrition.

The consultations ended in a consensus on the need for enhanced collaboration between CSOs, academia (particularly Schools of Public Health and Schools of Law), and government agencies to drive policy advocacy and academic engagement in promoting healthier diets and physical activity. Participants emphasized the importance of leveraging existing initiatives and networks, while addressing gaps in legal capacity, human rights-based approaches, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

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