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



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


Mak’s GMI Labs Authorized to Conduct DNA Paternity Testing



Some of the equipment used to store samples at the Makerere University Biomedical Research Centre (MakBRC), College of Health Sciences (CHS). Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The Genomics, Molecular, and Immunology Laboratories (GMI Labs), operating under the auspices of the Makerere University Biomedical Research Center (MakBRC), have achieved another significant milestone in their journey of diagnostic excellence. The labs, renowned for their pivotal role in infectious and non-infectious disease research, have received official approval from the Director General Health Services at the Ministry of Health (MoH), Uganda, to conduct DNA Paternity Tests.

Situated at the Dept of Immunology & Molecular Biology under the School of Biomedical Sciences at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, the GMI Labs have been at the forefront of cutting-edge research, diagnostic testing, and training initiatives. Their remarkable contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic, where they conducted nearly a million PCR tests, underscored their unwavering commitment to public health and scientific advancement. The labs’ exemplary performance and reliability were further highlighted by their successful management of two critical COVID-19 prevalence surveys. The findings of these surveys served as foundational data for crucial decisions guiding the country’s lockdown strategies and phased reopening, earning commendation from the President and the Ministry of Health.

This latest authorization from the Ministry of Health marks a significant expansion of the GMI Labs’ diagnostic capabilities. With the approval to conduct DNA Paternity Tests, the labs are now equipped to offer a crucial service addressing the need for accurate and reliable genetic testing for determining biological parentage. In a letter dated 22nd November 2023, the Director General Health Services emphasized the laboratory’s rigorous adherence to international standards, proficiency in molecular biology techniques, and their proven track record in delivering precise and credible results. This approval further solidifies the labs’ position as a trusted institution for advanced genetic diagnostics in Uganda.

Prof. Moses L Joloba, the Director of the GMI Labs, expressed immense pride in the team’s dedication and expertise that led to this authorization. He highlighted the labs’ commitment to upholding the highest standards of ethical practice, confidentiality, and accuracy in DNA paternity testing, ensuring the delivery of dependable results crucial for legal, personal, and familial purposes.

The inclusion of DNA Paternity Testing within the GMI Labs’ list of services aligns with their overarching goal of advancing healthcare through state-of-the-art diagnostics, research, and education. This milestone represents not only a significant achievement for the labs but also a valuable resource for individuals seeking reliable and comprehensive genetic testing services. As the GMI Labs continue their unwavering commitment to excellence in healthcare and research, this new capability reaffirms their pivotal role in advancing the frontiers of molecular diagnostics and genetic testing in Uganda, working closely with reputable institutions such as Makerere University Hospital and other top-notch health facilities.

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MNCH e-Post Issue 121: Learning from Nsambya Hospital Human Milk Bank to inform national scale-up & save preterm babies



A Screenshot of Prof. Peter Waiswa during his interview with NTV. MNCH e-Post Issue No. 121, MakSPH, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

Welcome to this exclusive interview with Prof. Peter Waiswa, lead expert from the Makerere University Centre of Excellence for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health. Dr. Victoria Nakibuuka from St. Francis Nsambya Hospital, and Dr. Jesca Nsungwa from Ministry of Health Uganda. In this video, they discuss a groundbreaking innovation in Uganda’s healthcare landscape: the country’s first-ever human milk bank at St. Francis Hospital Nsambya. This initiative represents a significant stride towards improving the survival rates of premature and vulnerable infants by ensuring access to essential breast milk, even when mothers are unable to produce enough. Watch Video

Click here to View the full MNCH e-Post Issue 121

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METS Newsletter October 2023



Front Row (Left to Right): The hosts - Dr. Alice Namale and Ms. Evelyn Akello with Commissioner Allan Muruta and representatives from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) enjoy a photo moment on 5th October 2023. Photo: METS. Plot 20A Kawalya Kaggwa Close, Kololo Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Support (METS) Program is a 5-year CDC-supported collaboration of Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Health Information Systems Program (HISP Uganda).

Highlights of the METS October 2023 Newsletter

  • Strategies for Enhanced Disease Surveillance and Public Health Response in Uganda
    • The MoH Department of Integrated Epidemiology Surveillance & Public Health Emergencies (IES&PHE) Head, Commissioner Allan Muruta (Dr) visited METS to acquaint himself with the various surveillance activities supported by the Program.
    • Commissioner Muruta emphasized the need to build the capacity of districts and regions to conduct surveillance activities by training the relevant staff and establishing surveillance focal points at health facility levels.
    • He further emphasized the importance of linking laboratory data to the District Health Information System (DHIS2) and ensuring that different systems are interoperable.
  • Improving quality of data for HIV testing services (HTS) through regular assessments
    • MoH has been conducting Data Quality Assessments and Improvement (DQAI) activities to inform program planning, monitoring, and performance management. HIV testing services (HTS) inter was conducted in 16 regions, 81 districts, and 111 health facilities in partnership with 26 Implementing partners.
    • The HTS DQA has improved data management, infrastructure, and understanding of indicators. Specific staff assignment at each HTS entry point has proven effective, and use of the UgandaEMR system for reporting has yielded positive results.
  • Shaping Uganda’s Healthcare Data Landscape
    • METS has maintained a strong collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) providing invaluable technical support in developing various strategic guidelines for the country. These guidelines include the Uganda Health Information Exchange and Interoperability (HIE) Guidelines, the Uganda Health Data Protection and Confidentiality (HDPC) Guidelines, and the Uganda Health Data Sharing, Access, and Use Guidelines.
    • HIE and HDPC guidelines have received the endorsement of the Health Information, Innovation and Research (HIIRE) Technical Working Group (TWG), awaiting presentation to the senior management team at the MoH for final approval.
  • Empowering Health Professionals: PrEP Training in Hoima District
    • MakSPH-METS has taken a proactive stance in supporting Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) for key populations through the development, management, and conducting trainings on the use of the PrEP tracker system across various agencies.
    • METS conducted a 5-day training on the KP/PrEP Tracker system in Hoima district. Moving forward, facility staff will be able to enter data on PrEP services into the system in a timely manner, analyze the data, and use it for program improvement.
  • Gallery
    • HIV testing services (HTS) Data Quality Assessments and Improvement DQAIs
    • Interagency cervical cancer on-site mentorships
    • Orientation in KP tracker-Soroti
    • TDY from CDC headquarters visit to METS
    • M&E orientation meetings for new Implementing Partners
    • Planning meeting for Cross Border Data Sharing-Busia

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