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In this article originally published in The Conversation, Dr Tolullah Oni and Dr Camaren Peter discuss new research on the role that social media played in driving public engagement with Covid-19 health measures in Lagos, Nigeria, and lessons for responses to future crises.
In times of crisis, it is especially crucial that governments share accurate, up to date information with their citizens. Social media can play an important role in disseminating urgent information.
At its simplest, for instance, it allows people to mark themselves as “safe” after natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, or during terrorist attacks and insurgencies.
Social media platforms can also be used to share critically important information about disaster management. And it’s a powerful tool for authorities to tackle misinformation and disinformation that may arise.
International research network aims to counter the triple threat to health
The Global Diet and Activity Research Network (GDAR) has launched an ambitious four-year research programme funded by the NIHR Global Health Research initiative. The programme is looking at how the ‘syndemic’ of urbanisation and climate change is influencing diet and physical activity and their related non-communicable diseases. A syndemic, from ‘synergistic epidemic’, is a situation where simultaneous epidemics and risks interact to intensify the burden of disease.
GDAR is a research network across seven countries on three continents. It is working in Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya and Jamaica, as well as collaborating with UN-Habitat, and Universities in Brazil, Nigeria and the UK.
The GDAR Network is building on its recently completed first phase of research, which explored how policy, community and commercial systems shape diet and physical activity environments and behaviours in cities in low- and middle-income countries. This latest phase of research – named GDAR Spaces in recognition of the importance of physical, economic and cultural spaces in shaping our health – has a particular focus on how climate change and rapid urbanisation interact with the built and food environment.
By 2050, it is projected that almost 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities, up from 55% today. The fastest urban growth is happening in Asia and Africa, which is also where we’re seeing a rapid rise in people suffering from, and dying of, heart disease.
The impact of non-communicable diseases on the world population’s health is growing. Non-communicable diseases are those that are not directly transmissible from one person to another. By 2030, scientists predict they will account for 77% of the global burden of disease. Cardiovascular or heart disease is the most common type, responsible for 44% of all deaths related to this category.
New research from the University Medical Centre in Mainz, Germany, explores how urbanisation exacerbates the risks of such diseases. Young people are increasingly concentrated in the world’s cities. Their future health is at risk. Can city planning can be harnessed to protect their health.
Karen Hofman and Nicola Christofides write in about GDAR research assessing the food environment in primary schools in Gauteng following a voluntary pledge by a large beverage company. This blog post was originally published in The Conversation.
In 2017, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa voluntarily announced that it would stop supplying sugary beverages to primary school outlets. The company also pledged to remove all branding and advertising from schools. The announcement took the form of a letter noting that that Coca-Cola Beverages wanted to play “an active role in addressing rising obesity rates in South Africa, especially among children”.
Childhood obesity is a serious and growing problem is South Africa. More than 13% of children are either obese or overweight. The consumption of liquid sugar is particularly harmful because it is absorbed so quickly into the bloodstream. Not surprisingly, sugary drinks and their marketing has been linked to obesity especially among children. Just a single sugary beverage per day increases that child’s chance of overweight by 55%. Similarly, once they become an overweight teen, there is a 70% chance they will not be able to lose the weight.
GDAR’s short film about citizen science in Yaoundé was showcased in an NCD Alliance Webinar on 11 November. GDAR co-lead Tolullah Oni took part in the event that provided a first-hand glimpse at the faces of community mobilisation to act on NCDs in the #COVID19 era.
In commemoration of World Diabetes Day, this webinar convened global experts to discuss the role of civil society engagement, lessons learned from #COVID19, #diabetes prevention and control, and launched the ‘Turning The Tide on NCDs’ series in Africa. It was Co-organized with Ecobank Group.
Professor Vicki Lambert from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) and GDAR has been part of spearheading the African Academic Consortium on Physical Activity for Health, which has released two policy briefs for government about physical activity.
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a multi-faceted national plan for physical activity to underpin health development. Some of the diseases that increase the risk of individuals with COVID-19 being hospitalised or dying are the same lifestyle-related diseases associated with being physically inactive. These include diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Lambert, from UCT’s Research Centre for Health through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sports (HPALS), is spearheading the African Academic Consortium on Physical Activity for Health, with Associate Professor Rowena Naidoo from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s College of Health Sciences.
GDAR researchers have been involved in a range of work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 prevention information translated into several widely spoken African languages
GDAR teams up with NCD Alliance and BBC StoryWorks as part of short film series
They’re the world’s biggest killers. Non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes account for 70 percent of all deaths. But many of these diseases can be prevented and the suffering from their effects, reduced. Turning the Tide is a series of short films about the bold actions being carried out by communities and organisations to take on NCDs. The stories are about the small and significant changes being made for better, healthier lives.
Watch the full series at ncdalliance.org/turning-the-tide/
Healthy Cities: Intersectoral approaches to non-communicable disease prevention in Africa
Held 2-4 December 2019, STIAS Wallenberg Research Centre, Stellenbosch, South Africa
How will changes in the food environment affect communities in Kenya?
This article is an extract from epigram, the newsletter of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, which coordinates GDAR. Read the full issue of epigram 2019 here.
Non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancers are a global challenge. In fact they are more common in many low and middle income countries than in high income countries. In the lower income nations, most people with these diseases are of working age, which can leave families destitute and harm development.
The MRC Epidemiology Unit is playing its part in addressing this challenge through its coordination of the Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR). This is a partnership between the Unit and researchers in Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa and the Caribbean, funded through the NIHR Global Health Research initiative.
The Global Burden of Disease study, which tracked trends in consumption of 15 dietary factors from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries, and is now published in The Lancet, finds that people in almost every region of the world could benefit from rebalancing their diets to eat optimal amounts of various foods and nutrients.
The study estimates that one in five deaths globally – equivalent to 11 million deaths – are associated with poor diet, and diet contributes to a range of chronic diseases in people around the world. In 2017, more deaths were caused by diets with too low amounts of foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds than by diets with high levels of foods like trans fats, sugary drinks, and high levels of red and processed meats.
The authors say that their findings highlight the urgent need for coordinated global efforts to improve diet, through collaboration with various sections of the food system and policies that drive balanced diets.
Press Release issued when the GDAR funding was announced in July 2017.
The MRC Epidemiology Unit has been awarded funding by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for a new international research partnership to help combat poor diet and physical inactivity in order to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases.
The Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR) will carry out research to help prevent non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which are a major and growing cause of death and disability in low and middle income countries. Two of the most important causes behind the increases in these diseases are unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity, both of which are associated with the rapid economic development that is taking place in these countries.