Amos Laar: combating non-communicable diseases in Ghana

Ghana is on the rise. The west-African nation with a population of about 30 million has the second-fastest growing economy on the continent. However, obesity in Ghana is also fast-growing: in 2017, the prevalence of obesity was reported to be 6·5 times greater than it was in 1980. One of the most active voices in this crisis belongs to Amos Laar, a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana School of Public Health in Accra, the country’s capital. Laar has been calling on the Ghanaian Government to pass legislation to regulate advertisement of unhealthy foods and drinks in print and online media, as well as in schools and other settings frequented by children and young people. He was also the lead author of a January, 2019, report that rated the Government’s performance as low in creating healthy food environments, improving food environments, and monitoring the risk factors and prevalences of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Although Laar describes the Government’s inaction as “particularly troubling”, he also believes that Ghanaian health professionals should improve their own nutritional literacy. He says that the efforts of the Ghanaian health-care system to address NCDs are “scant”, but adds that such inattention is probably due to an “absence of data that adequately describe the burden”.A native of rural Ghana, Laar received academic training in nutrition and public health at the University of Ghana (where he graduated with Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctoral degrees). More recently, he received a Master’s degree in bioethics from the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN, US). A university lecturer since May, 2010, he has taught classes on public health nutrition, diet and disease, and public health ethics at the University of Ghana School of Public Health. His current research involves bioethics as well as public health nutrition, including nutrition-related NCDs. As president of the African Nutrition Society, he wrestles with such issues as the amount of influence health stakeholders should have on individual lives—Laar favours legislation that applies to everyone, rather than policies targeted at people with obesity. His specialties of bioethics and public health nutrition also intersect at the thorny issue of the fast food industry’s involvement in discussions around mitigating obesity. As he points out, some might consider it a health stakeholder’s duty to dismiss the industry and its spokespeople as a pernicious influence. Although actively willing to contemplate multiple sides of an issue—including a willingness to engage with industry—he does not hesitate to deliver condemnation. Observing the influx of processed foods and the burgeoning fast food industry in his country, he describes the obesity crisis as a “man-made disaster” and a “pandemic of human wrongs” in which greed plays a starring role.

Ray Cavanaugh, The Lancet
June 11, 2019

Source: The Lancet