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New research warns of Non communicable disease crisis in waiting

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Few adolescents take the recommended amounts of micro -nutrient food by the Food and Agriculture Organisation- FAO each day, a new study has found.

FAO recommends having dietary diversit, which means consuming at least four of the nine food groups on the daily basis. This includes Cereals/roots/tubers; Vitamin A rich fruit and vegetables; Legumes and nuts; Fats and oils; Meat, poultry and fish; Milk and milk products; Eggs; Sweets; Spices and beverages.

But 99.7% of the adolescents analyzed in a study by Makerere University School of Public Health in the rural Eastern Uganda districts of Iganga and Mayuge depend majorly on diets high in fats, oils, spices and beverages. This is in addition to sweets and cereals with low level micro nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables something that defies the known notion of fries and oils being a norm in urban settings.

In a statement issued on Monday morning, researchers warn of a Non Communicable Disease Crisis in waiting. The researchers analyzed data collected from 598 adolescents aged 10–19 to assess the health status and adolescent’s behavior.

Based on the findings, pulses, nuts, seeds (legumes) and other vegetables (non-vitamin A rich) were averagely consumed ranging from 50 to 66.2%. The least consumed foods included, dark green leafy vegetables (42.3%), meat/poultry/fish (33.1%), dairy products (32.9%), eggs (11.2%), vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables (33.4%) and other fruits (8.2%).

They also found that adolescents who ate at the restaurant at least once a week were at 40% more likely to have high dietary diversity score compared to those who solely depended on household meals. Dr. David Guwatudde, a Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics who was part of the research team warns that adolescents in the highlighted districts risk becoming overweight and obese along the life course.

“Depending on how long they continue to consume diets with high content of fats and oils, they may end up being overweight or worse obese yet being overweight or obese is known to be a risk factor for various non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like hypertension, diabetes and some cancers. These are the long-term implications,” he said.

He adds that quite a number of scientific studies have shown that sometimes individuals adopt risk factors for non-communicable diseases like unhealthy diets during adolescence and grow with such habits into their adulthood making it difficult to shed them off even when they become too risky later in their lives.

According to Dr. Nathan Isabirye, the lead Researcher and Public Health Nutritionist, their findings speak to the general shift in diet partly explained by the increase in the availability of cheap oils and fats on low-income markets.

“In Uganda, oils and sweeteners are being packed nowadays in small quantities hence are affordable by the rural poor people. As fats and oils are being consumed by the adolescents there is less consumption of fruits and vegetables”.

The researchers warn this trend may lead to a NCD crisis in the near future if no interventions to halt it are made. They recommend addressing contributing factors to the burden targeting the parenting contexts of the adolescents since diets are inclined to household demography.

“There are other studies that have indicated the same. Although we cannot say that findings from this study are representative of the adolescents in Uganda, it is possible that there are adolescents in other parts of Uganda especially in urban areas who are likely to have similar dietary habits or even worse,” Guwatudde observes.

Results of this study are published in a UK based scientific journal, BioMed Central.

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