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Rising Childhood Obesity: Mak Researchers Investigate Unhealthy Food and Beverage Advertising to Children

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By Joseph Odoi

In Uganda, many children are exposed to aggressive advertisement of unhealthy foods and sugar sweetened non-alcoholic beverages which in turn prepares their mind as future potential clients. Unfortunately, there is little understanding on the extent, nature and impact of children’s exposure to food and non-alcoholic beverage advertising trends in Uganda.

Driven by this worrying trend and increasing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), researchers at Makerere University have embarked on a study to promote regulated unhealthy food and sugar sweetened beverage advertising. 

A research project titled Food and beverage Advertising to Children in Uganda(FACe-U),  with funding from Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (MakRIF), has been commissioned to understand advertising patterns of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages towards children below 18 years. This study comes at a time when there’s coinciding increase in overweight and obesity cases among children in Uganda.  The project will also investigate the extent to which content  influences children’s food choices and suggest changes for more responsible food  and beverage advertising. This will contribute towards creating a healthy food environment in Uganda.

According  to Dr. Gloria Seruwagi, the Project lead  and Principal Investigator, young children are gaining more weight early, mostly because of the foods they eat, pushed by advertising.“We are seeing an increase in waist size. Children are becoming more obese and overweight mostly because of the foods that they consume, the lifestyles we are allowing them as parents and caretakers. This brings complications to children which may affect their overall development and academic performance. We need to protect impressionable children and adolescents. Recently the World Health Organisation through the Global RECAP program and engagement of policymakers in Uganda, confirmed that ‘marketing restrictions to children’ is a number one priority issue in Uganda. We need to support global and national effort to strengthen capacity of key actors in promoting healthy diets and increase physical activity for the prevention of NCDs.

Dr. Gloria Seruwagi (R) the study PI and Ms. Florence Tushemereirwe the Co-PI and Public Health Nutritionist  at MakSPH discuss the FACe-U study
Dr. Gloria Seruwagi (R) the study PI and Ms. Florence Tushemereirwe the Co-PI and Public Health Nutritionist at MakSPH discuss the FACe-U study

We hope that our study findings will inform and support policy actions to regulate irresponsible production and advertising; create healthy food environments that prevent childhood obesity; and contribute towards achieving the Uganda Nutrition Action Plan II (2020-2025) and the country’s Strategic Development Goals” she remarked. This study is foundational and shall begin by undertaking a situation analysis. For example; we shall assess how often unhealthy food and beverages adverts feature on TV, the airing period (at what time), how many times, and the persuasive content targeting children and adolescents.” she added. The study will use empirical and media monitoring data to determine trends of magnitude of advertising and types of food and non-alcoholic beverages advertised to children in Uganda.

According to the Study Co-PI Florence Tushemereirwe, this one year  study is a partnership between a team of researchers at Makerere University School of Public Health(MakSPH) and the School of Social Sciences (CHUSS). The project team also includes Maureen Nabatanzi (Research Fellow), Dr. Priscilla Cheptyo (Research Officer), Maria Ssematiko  and Flavia Nakacwa (Project Liason and Administrator respectively).The team has mentors based at MakSPH, APHRC in Nairobi, Sciencano and Institute of Tropical Medicine, in Belgium.

Expected Outcomes of Face-U Project

  1. Increased understanding on the nature and extent of food and non-alcoholic beverages advertising to children. We shall use real time television, radio and newspaper data, including video clips and pictures where appropriate, to generate this outcome.
  2. Categories of food and non-alcoholic beverages advertised to children using the AFRO nutrient profile model. Categorizing the types of food and beverages advertised shows the nature of food advertised to influence children’s food choices and diets.
  3. Analysis and documentation of the persuasive techniques used to promote food and sweetened beverages to children and children’s preferred media channels. Food and non-alcoholic beverages advertisers use content to persuade children and capture innocent children’s minds early in life to prepare them as future clients for their products. This outcome will directly contribute towards food and beverage regulation – specifically on marketing to children in Uganda.

In her remarks, Florence Basiimwa Tushemerirwe, a public health nutritionist and Co-Principal Investigator of the project  said the study will be implemented in Mbale, Kabale, Kampala and the surrounding areas. Ms. Tushemerirwe  said that the team chose study sites like Kabale owing to the fact that it’s  a meeting place for more than 3 countries; e.g. Uganda , Rwanda, Burundi and DRC Congo. Mbale district receives products from South Sudan and Kenya. The Kampala Metropolitan area represents urban settings with higher exposure to advertising among children, partly due to TV access and billboard adverts among others.

Florence Tushemereirwe, the Study Co-PI from Makerere University School of Public Health emphasises a point.

Dr. Cheputyo Priscilla,  a member  of  the research team, gave insight into how Uganda is currently undergoing a nutrition transition with many children becoming overweight and obese, according to national data.Obesity is caused by many factors but the most common is consumption of foods that are high in calories. “We get most of the calories from sweet sugars, added to processed foods like sodas, yogurts and baked products in the supermarkets; we get calories from fatty foods like chips, fried foods like chicken, chaps, rolex, and more from fast food restaurants,” she explained.Florence Tushemereirwe, the Study Co-PI from Makerere University School of Public Health makes a point

National Obesity Statistics

In 2016, Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) found: 4% of children under five years, and 16% of adolescent girls were obese, a rise from 2.4% of boys and 2.1% of girls in 2014. Therefore, it is the right time for Uganda to nip these health conditions in the bud.

More information on the FACe-U study, including updates, stakeholder engagement and research outputs can be found here

Health

Fostering Continuous Improvement of Public Health Laboratory Services In Uganda: IDI’s Contribution (2018-2020)

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One of the staff uses the Abbott m2000 RealTime System in the Core Laboratory (CL), IDI, Makerere University.

The Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI), Makerere University houses a state of the art laboratory – the Core Laboratory (CL) – certified by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) and accredited by the Uganda Ministry of Health (MoH) as a lead partner in strengthening laboratory systems.

In line with its 5-year (2018-2023) goal of ‘providing high-quality lab services at IDI to meet both clinical and research demands, to support the sustained improvement of lab capacity across Uganda with systems of assured and consistent quality’ to conduct routine testing, specialized clinical research trials, and detection of virulent pathogens of epidemic outbreak nature.

To match internationally standards for clinical laboratory methodologies and clinical applications, the CL has maintained a 25-year record of conducting at least 01 internal audit, 04 external audits annually, besides bi-annual inspections by the College of American Pathologists (CAP), to incorporate the latest best practices. Further, the CL continuously improves its technology and automation to increase productivity and enhance testing turnaround time (TAT).

The CL operates in a One IDI approach, where sister Technical Programs source its support, besides the Ministry of Health of Uganda, local and international academic research institutions and individual research fellows. The outbreak of COVID-19 in December 2019 was an opportunity for growth and expansion for the CL, to support national and global preparedness and response to infection prevention and control (IPC). To date, the CL has registered several milestones in enhancing disease laboratory TAT for COVID-19 testing, strengthening human capacity at the forefront on COVID-19 IPC, sustaining laboratory services for other communicable and non-communicable diseases as well as answering research questions.

Please see Downloads for the full technical brief.

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UniCare App: 24/7 Access to Counselling

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UniCare App: 24/7 Access to Professional Counselling Services. Available on Google Play Store.

The Counselling and Guidance Centre (CGC) has developed UniCare, a counselling App for the Makerere University community members (Staff and Students).

Do you have personal concerns that need addressing?

Do you need to improve your life skills?

Are you struggling with something and need to talk to someone professional in confidence?

Then download UniCare from the Play Store and use it at any time of your convenience.

You can access counselling services through instant messaging, phone calls and other forms.

Enquiries:

Tel: +256-751-700897
Email: rbaguma[at]cit.ac.ug, henry.nsubuga[at]mak.ac.ug

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Call for Applications: PhD Fellowships in Bioethics (4th Cohort)

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The Davies Lecture Theatre (Right), School of Biomedical Sciences (Blue) and other buildings at the College of Health Sciences (CHS), Mulago Campus, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

Applications are invited for PhD fellowships in bioethics from Makerere University College of Health Sciences (CHS) faculty and individuals who participate in the academic activities of the college who are interested and COMMITTED to becoming bioethics scholars.

Successful applicants should be willing to become bioethics scholars as they work within the structured and mentored training programme with a focus on any aspect of international research bioethics related to Health Sciences. Funding will be available to support 2 successful doctoral candidates up to 3 years of accelerated training leading to the award of the Makerere University doctoral degree.

Eligibility

This training is open to faculty including people who contribute to teaching and research at Makerere University or one of its partner institutions in Uganda, who meet any of the following criteria:

a. Able to articulate a clear research bioethics problem of interest to them.
b. Demonstrate prior participation in bioethics, beyond having submitted research proposals to an IRB.
c. Demonstrate a basic understanding of bioethics in order to know that this is an appropriate next step for the applicant.
d. Demonstrate past active participation in bioethics in health service delivery or at the interface of health related ethical-legal issues
e. Provide evidence of experience in research in bioethics and or authorship in this field
f. Prior master’s level or fellowship level training in bioethics or related fields.

Criteria for Selection

  1. Demonstrated interest in doctoral research training and conducting research with a focus on
    research bioethics.
  2. Potential to handle rigorous academic requirements of the doctoral program.
  3. Having a plan for career development
  4. Capacity towards attaining research leadership and international recognition in bioethics.
  5. Female candidates and medical doctors are especially encouraged to apply

Application Process

Applications must be submitted to makbioethics[at]gmail.com and should consist of a cover letter (1 page only), a resume (not more than 3 pages), a personal statement (Maximum 1 page), a Makerere University formatted PhD research concept (Maximum 10 pages) and two letters of recommendation (sent separately by the referees to makbioethics[at]gmail.com). The personal statement should include your contribution to the academic and research life of a department at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, your aspirations for career progression in the next 5-7 years, research interests and any information you consider relevant.

Closing date for the receipt of applications is 8th October 2021.

Enquiries can be forwarded to the PI, of the PhD bioethics research training Program on makbioethics[at]gmail.com

Timelines:

  • Application deadline: October 8, 2021
  • Interviews: October 15, 2021
  • Notification date: October 22, 2021
  • Proposed start date: November 1, 2021

Part of this training will take place at Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics in the USA in Year 1 for a total of 2-3 months. Successful candidates will receive a monthly stipend based on USA National Institutes of Health regulations, tuition, research funds and travel to the USA. Applicants should demonstrate excellent communications skills and will be expected to work as part of a highly motivated, result oriented bioethics group.

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