Civil Society group calls for the implementation of Warning Labels on products and beverages purchased in Kenya

Africa Science News

By Lenah Bosibori


A civil society group has called on the Ministry of Health to mandatory implement the Warning Labels saying that it will help consumers in Kenya easily identify high levels of salt, sugar and fats in packaged foods and beverages.

Speaking during the launch of a field study findings conducted by African Population and Research Centre (APHRC) during a round table media forum in Nairobi, Dr Shukri Mohammed a researcher at APHRC said that the Warning Labels will discourage the purchase of products that are unhealthy for the population.

“There is a need to increase awareness about the unhealthiness of foods in terms of the nutrients of concern, our study showed that consumers recognise faster products with Warning Labels as compared to products without,” she says.

High consumption of sugary beverages, fast food and snacks has been associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. Public health interventions targeting dietary behaviours include nutrition education, food labelling, taxation of unhealthy products and promotion of healthier food environments according to Dr Mohammed.

“The burden of NCDs is rising in Kenya, with a significant of the population affected by conditions such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, the latest Kenya Demographic and  Health Survey data has shown an upward trend in overweight and obesity prevalence, rising from 25 per cent to 33 per cent in 2014 and 49 per cent in 2022,. This increased prevalence has been higher among women,” said Dr Mohammed.

Addressing the issue of Non Communicable Diseases in Kenya Requires comprehensive strategies to promote healthier dietary patterns, empower individuals to make informed food choices and create an environment conducive to healthy living.

Dr Mohammed noted that Front of Pack Labels (FOPLs) also go hand in hand with Warning Labels, this will help consumers make healthier choices as the level of sugar, salt and fats will be easily viewed by consumers leading them to select more healthier foods.

“FOPLs help consumers make healthier food choices by highlighting key nutrients of concern such as sugar, salt and fats directly on the front of food packaging. These labels serve as a visual cue to alert consumers to the nutritional quality of products and encourage them to select healthier options,” adds Mohammed.

According to Dr Mohammed, poor dietary patterns influenced by factors such as urbanization, changing lifestyles and food availability, contribute to the increasing prevalence of NCDs.

“Nutrient Profile Models are also important in Front of Pack Labels and Warning Labels. Nutrient profiling is a scientific method that classifies/ranks food and beverage items according to their nutritional composition,” she notes.

Nutrient Profile Models play a crucial role in informing public health policies and interventions aimed at promoting healthier diets and reducing the burden of diet related diseases.

“Kenya has made great strides with regards to the development of the Kenya Nutrient Profile Model. Policy development is not a straightforward process and it takes a long time to make policy decisions. Despite the long process and challenges faced, we are hopeful that the Kenya Nutrient Profile Model will be launched this year,” adds Dr Mohammed.

Some countries are already using the warning labels with some using traffic lights signs and others using mandatory warning labels, some of them include; israel, Brazil and Mexico to reduce health effects of unhealthy products.

Consumers in countries with front of package nutrition labels reduced purchase of unhealthy foods and beverages. Mandatory system is more effective in providing clear and accurate information about the nutrients in a product, but a voluntary system is not recommended because it can lead to confusion and misleading information for consumers.

“Consumers suggested that warning labels should be attractive, memorable and convey meaning e.g. red/green for salt/sugar. Participants generally found warning labels to be culturally appropriate.

On her part, Dr Catherine Karakezi the Executive Director Non-Communicable Diseases  Alliance of Kenya (NCDAK) said that access to treatment of these severe NCDs is only available in tertiary referral hospitals which are out of reach of many children with these conditions and this tends to compromise the quality of healthcare.

“We need to strengthen level hospitals, sub-county hospitals and also health sectors to provide access to integrated care for children with these severe conditions,” said Dr Karakezi.

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