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Researchers start study on impact of food and beverage advertising on children

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Researchers at Makerere University have embarked on a study to establish how advertising of fizzy drinks and snacks targeting children, can be regulated to safeguard children against the likely danger in these processed foods.

Dr Gloria Seruwagi, a Makerere University Behavioural Scientist who is the Principal Investigator on the study in which practical and media monitoring data will be used to assess the food environment, its effect on childhood obesity and Uganda’s Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) burden said currently in Uganda the regulation on what children can access or not is weak and yet children increasingly continue to present with diseases associated with bad feeding including obesity and diabetes.

She says like elsewhere Uganda is seeing an increasing trend in NCDs like diabetes and cancer and yet producers of unhealthy products are not being checked. In their preliminary research, she says they found in many packed products, the producers didn’t stipulate the contents and yet don’t explain what quantities can be safely consumed by children.  

This study which has been code named FACE – U lasts a year and will be conducted in cities and towns of Kampala, Wakiso, Kabale, Mbale and Kampala. In addition to assessing what children eat, the researchers will interview parents and policymakers in addition to assessing how often children targeted adverts run in the media. 

 According to Dr Florence Tushemerirwe, a Public Health Nutritionist based at the School of Public Health, a co-investigator on the study, they chose border towns to see what kind of products are coming from the neighbouring countries. 

However, this study comes at a time when a local food rights NGO Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) has petitioned the court over the same matter of exposure to children of dangerous food advertising at a young age where their ability to make rational decisions is limited.

The organization sued the government and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for failure to protect children against exposure to adverts on junk food and failure to block its importation.

David Kabanda an advocate based at CEFROHT said manufacturing and advertising firms are playing on the ignorance of children to make profits, which may leave the children unhealthy.

He asked that something is done to halt this advertising saying companies are promoting unhealthy products and ignoring healthy ones.

“There are sodas that are sugar-free that would be a better alternative for children but these sodas are rarely advertised. They don’t get as much airtime on TV as other beverages that are unhealthy,” Kabanda said.

This case has never been heard. In addition, the move to allow the National Drug Authority (NDA) to regulate the food market as it does for drugs has stalled as the entity has never been transformed into the National Food and Drug Authority despite the initial push.