Dr. Richmond Aryeetey
The College of Health Sciences has taken its turn in the on-going Inter-College Lecture Series being organised by the University at the ISSER Conference Hall. The speaker for the lecture was Dr. Richmond Aryeetey of the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences. Dr. Aryeetey’s presentation was entitled “Nutrition and Health claims linked to foods: the case for national food based dietary guidelines”. The lecture was chaired by the Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Rev. Prof. Patrick Ferdinand Ayeh-Kumi.
Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Rev. Prof. Patrick Ferdinand Ayeh-Kumi.
Dr. Richmond Aryeetey’s motivation in nutrition health claims stems from previous studies he had done with his students on breast feeding compliance in Ghana by breast feeding supplement manufacturing firms and exposure of consumers to as much processed food as non-processed food in Ghana. These studies identified serious gaps in the regulation of food claims and its compliance in Ghana. From the studies, only 5% of labels indicated importance of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months which was supposed to be a compliance requirement.
Also, a collaborative study with Iowa State University, revealed that residents of Ashongman Estates were exposed to as much processed food as non-processed food from traditional markets where fresh foods were believed to be sold rather than processed foods as well as from other outlets (corner stores, hawkers, mini-supermarkets, supermarkets). Regulation enforcement is liable to limitations and businesses are quick to exploit any loopholes in existing laws. There is therefore a huge gap in academic research as he found only one academic study on food claims in Sub- Saharan Africa.
Speaking on the topic for the lecture, Dr. Aryeetey revealed that there were certain whole (non-modified) foods known as functional foods that had certain claims such as health improvement or disease reduction. He cited Noni (Morinda citrifolia) as well as other foods that have claims ranging from heart health to cancers. He noted that there were two types of claims and they are Nutrition claims and Health claims.
Nutrition claims and nutrient content claims are the two main types of claims which seek to show, describe or suggest level of nutrient in a food/product whiles health claims are any representation which states, suggests, or implies that relationship exists between food or constituent of that food and health and these claims must be regulated in order not to mislead people.
Different countries base their claims regulation and standardization on their local laws. Regulation of claims in Ghana is guided by the Public Health Act (ACT 851; 2012). Essentially it is based on standards and guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex is a WHO/FAO institution mandated to develop harmonised international food standards, which protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade. Regulatory agencies use these classifications to monitor and ensure claims are delivering on their promise.
In Ghana, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) is involved in monitoring both food label claims as well as advertising claims. Unfortunately, in Ghana, in order not to stifle industrial innovation, information of such violators are not published which alternatively keeps the public in the dark about potential challenges. There are also no guidelines for claims on nutrition information dissemination.
Dr. Aryeetey recommended the need for collaboration between public health experts, nutritionists, dieticians and communication scholars for research projects that examine fidelity of published information and the gatekeeping system that ensures appropriate editing of information. There is also the need for research to span information sciences, communication, computer science, and informatics to study how to help the general public to navigate the complex web so that they can make use of the opportunities of web and social media while limiting its adverse effects of providing unsubstantiated information/claims especially when it comes to food.
Earlier, the Dean of the School of Public Health, Prof. Richard Adanu welcomed the audience to the lecture. He was grateful to the University and the College of Health Sciences for the opportunity afforded Dr. Richmond Aryeetey and the School of Public Health to showcase one of their numerous research endeavours.
Dean of the School of Public Health, Prof. Richard Adanu
The Chairman for the Lecture and Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Rev. Prof. Patrick F. Ayeh-Kumi in his closing remarks thanked Dr. Richmond Aryeetey for his insightful lecture and urged regulatory bodies to increase their monitoring of the activities of manufacturers in order to be able to protect the citizenry.
The lecture was attended by a cross-section of staff from the University Community including the Deans of the College of Health Sciences and the College Secretary, Mr. Michael Opare-Atuah.
A section of the audience at the Lecture