Our recent study published in the Frontiers in Public Health reported that some “…retailers described the food they sell as “junk”. The study was conducted in the greater Accra region by a group of researchers from the School of Public Health of the University of Ghana. The study sought among others to assess Accra-based retailers’ perceptions and appreciation of the “healthiness of food” as a concept and record the measures food retailers adopt to encourage healthy food choices.
The study was part of a broader project, code-named the MEALS4NCDs project, led by the School of Public Health, University of Ghana. The project sought to measure the Ghanaian food environment and make evidence-informed recommendations to the government of Ghana to be implemented in partnership with other food systems actors.
Shop owners have indicated, as part of the study, that the youth in particular has a strong predilection for “junk” food. Therefore, retailers made sure to avail such food in their shops. Indeed, food retailers almost never offer fruits and vegetables, but would rather avail most shelves space to drink and processed food, Another study conducted in the same districts reported.
The problem is that these are not calories coming from bananas, mangoes, watermelon or papaya. These are calories coming from sodas, drinks, chips, and snack cakes. These are calories that people were probably not planning on consuming. Unplanned calories from foods high in fat and sugar contribute to poor diet and poor health, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, which may lead to premature death. The ubiquity of junk food and beverages in the food retail business, without a doubt, is contributing to Ghanaian society’s obesity problem.
Of the measures taken by retailers, only oral advice was salient, and retailers would offer such advice if consumers demanded it. In most cases, shoppers are left to their fate.
The business of junk food retail may be lucrative but health-harming. If retailers can’t act on their own, the hope is that government will take firm action to tackle the problem. To sanitize or improve the food environment, government policies are needed.
To some academics, the food environment must be cleaned the way environmentalists have been cleaning up the environment, and the retail sector is a good place to start, given that “junk” food are not food that people need. We can expedite the cleaning process through public policy and consumer pressure. Voluntary actions by retailers may not be effective enough or may take a long time given the conflicting economic interest.
The article is written by Silver Nanema & Amos Laar