Ugandan health rights advocates call for regulations of fast food industry

Ugandan health rights advocates call for regulations of fast food industry
Junk food

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Health rights advocates have asked the government to develop regulations and policies to govern the fast food industry in the country because it contravenes children’s nutrition rights.

The call follows a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), a human rights organization that promotes social justice in food, health, trade and investment systems, challenging the broadcasting of advertisements for processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages that are a threat to children’s health.

The State of the World’s Children 2019 released recently by UNICEF indicates that an alarmingly high number of children is suffering the consequences of poor diets and the absence of fresh and healthy foods. Instead, they feed on fast food which is typically high in sugar, unhealthy fat, and calories and low in nutrients.

The report that focuses on children, food and nutrition, found that almost 2 in 3 children between six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains. The food that they eat puts them at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death.

Moses Nsaire Kirigwajjo, a programme officer at the Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation says that the consumption trend today contravenes their right to nutritious food.

According to Kirigwajjo, government’s inability to regulate the fast food industry contravenes Article 24 of the United Nations Convention of the rights of children in which state parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. The convention also mandates states to take appropriate measures to combat disease and malnutrition through the provision of adequate nutritious foods, clean drinking water, and health care.

Kirigwajjo recommends strict regulations that will stop the advertisement of junk food or processed sugars on televisions or in the newspaper. He says that while no one is to blame since the government needs tax, strict regulatory policies like those used in tobacco control is needed.

Rose Wakikona, a programme officer at Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) says that many children’s rights are broken due to weak and non-existing laws.

“So many children in the country are exposed to things and situations that they should not be exposed to. But this is because as a country we have weak laws and even the ones that we have, we cannot implement,” Wakikona said.

According to nutrition experts, the lack of the will and awareness by parents and other stakeholders to advocate for proper feeding of children have exposed children as young as two to high levels of sugar and carbohydrates that cannot be used by the later and are later stored which results in obesity at a young age.

Julius Lwanga, a clinical nutritionist at Kampala Hospital says that the consumption of unhealthy food is on the rise in the country. A study carried out by Lwanga in Makindye division to highlight the burden of obesity among infants revealed that babies as young as two years are introduced to sugar-sweetened drinks which exposes them to obesity at an early age.

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“The problem is not junk food but the sedentary lifestyle. Children are eating this food and spending their entire day watching TV. There’s no or little physical activity. If someone eats junk food once a week and walks for at least 30 minutes three times a day, the things we are seeing today like obesity would not be an issue,” Lwanga explains.

Janet Kamukama, who was seated at one of the first food restaurants located at Forest Mall waiting for her order asked this publication Why not? when asked why she looks at fast foods as an optional meal.

“My children have been at school eating posho and beans for the better part of the school term. When they come back home, I like giving them treats. And for them, fried chicken, chips and a milkshake is a treat. I give them what I can,” Kamukama said.

While health rights advocates and health experts are crying foul about the consumption of junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages, government and the owners of fast-food restaurants are saying that consumers should be aware of the health effects of consuming such products.

Jordan Tamale, a branch manager at locally owned take away Chain-Chicken Tonight says that no one is forced to consume their products. He says fast-food chains like his exist to meet an unmet need.

Gerald Mutungi, the head of the Non-Communicable Diseases Department at the health ministry says that a lot needs to be put in place before the regulation of junk food can go ahead.