“…. NCD are now contributing for up to 40% of the total death in Ethiopia, affects working-age people, caused huge economic burden to families and the country….”

Yared Abebe (MD, MPH), a senior nutrition advisor

We have made a short stay with Yared Abebe (MD, MPH), a senior nutrition advisor, about unhealthy diet and their impact in regard to increasing the risks of NCD. Excerpts:

Q: Can we say that all kinds of food are healthy?

No, we can’t say that all foods are healthy there are some unhealthy foods. But most of the food ingredients can fit into a healthy diet if moderation is done in a good balance. The preparation, the type and the amount of ingredients that the food contains can make it unhealthy. Healthy food items in general are rich in nutrition and are useful for our health.

Q: What does unhealthy diet mean? Can we categorize packaged food as an unhealthy diet? Can you elaborate the relation between unhealthy diet and NCD?

Unhealthy foods are those that have less nutritional value and are high in contents that are harmful to our health. For instance, some unhealthy foods include high oils and salt, low fiber content, low vitamins, unhealthy fats. Packaged foods can be unhealthy if prepared with high amount of harmful ingredients such as salt, fat and trans-fat.

Noncommunicable diseases, sometimes called chronic diseases, include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes. These diseases are alarmingly increasing among our community for various reasons. Unhealthy diet is one of the main modifiable factors. Unhealthy foods that are high in salt, in harmful fats and calories markedly increase the risks.  

Yared Abebe (MD, MPH), a senior nutrition advisor

Q: What are the physical, psychological and economic impacts of unhealthy diet/NCD?

It is a sad fact that NCD are now contributing for up to 40% of the total death in Ethiopia. The trend recently is also worrisome. It also often affects working-age people. The burden for families and for the country is huge. One study showed that Ethiopia is losing close to 2% of its GDP due to the direct and indirect impacts of NCDs. The lives lost, the disabilities and the treatment costs are already huge demanding urgent action.

Q: What do you recommend to the community, in regard to unhealthy diet? And what do you expect from the government, mainly relating to ratifying unhealthy diet policies? 

A lot needs to be done by different actors including by the community and by the government. As a first step, professionals, associations, and other concerned bodies need to advocate about the agenda. This is important as all stakeholders need to recognize the basic fact that the burden of NCDs in Ethiopia is big and the contribution of unhealthy diet to NCDs is particularly huge. 

The community needs to carefully choose the foods to buy and to consume. There are several bottlenecks of course, and there is also a need for policy changes. For example, the current practice in terms of front-of-food package labeling is low to make such informed choices. The community needs to put pressure on the government to realize its right to healthy food.

The government on the other hand has rightly put reduction of risk of premature mortality from major NCDs as one of its overarching objectives in its health sector plan. Informed by the global practices and local evidence, the government should implement interventions including those recommended by the world health organization. To address the rising burden of unhealthy diet, I expect the government to first work on the development and the enforcement of comprehensive policies and legislations by involving relevant actors and partners. And this should happen timely.