UG Scientist and Collaborators Working on Revolutionising the Estimation of Food and Nutrient Intake in Households

University of Ghana Scientist and researcher Prof. Matilda Steiner-Asiedu and other scientists from renowned institutions worldwide are collaborating to develop and validate an innovative monitoring system aimed at revolutionising the estimation of food and nutrient intake in households in Ghana and Uganda.

Led by a consortium of experts, the project brings together researchers from Imperial College, London; the University of Ghana; the University of Alabama, USA; the University of Pittsburgh, USA; the University of Boston, USA; the University of Georgia, USA; and the Baylor College of Medicine, USA. This international collaboration is made possible through generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighting the global significance and impact of the initiative.

The primary goal of the study is to establish an objective, passive method for estimating food and nutrient intake in households, providing a more accurate and efficient means of understanding dietary habits.

Dr. Benny Lo, from Imperial College, London, plays a pivotal role as the Principal Investigator, leading the research. He is supported by two Ghanaian co-principal investigators, Prof. Matilda Steiner-Asiedu from the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Ghana and Prof. Alex Kojo Anderson, a University of Ghana alumnus who is currently a professor at the University of Georgia, USA.

Other distinguished Scientists working on the research project include Dr. Gary Frost (Imperial College, London), Dr. Edward Sazonov (University of Alabama, USA), Dr. Mingui Sun (University of Pittsburgh, USA), Dr. Megan A. McCrory (University of Boston, USA), Dr. Alex Kojo Anderson (University of Georgia, USA), and Dr. Thomas Baranowski (Baylor College of Medicine, USA).

The significance of this collaborative effort lies not only in its potential to provide more accurate data on food and nutrient intake but also in the passive nature of the monitoring system being developed. Unlike traditional methods that may rely on self-reporting or active participation, this innovation aims to passively collect data, reducing potential biases and errors associated with traditional dietary assessment methods.

The researchers believe that the outcomes of this study could have far-reaching implications for public health initiatives, nutritional interventions and policymaking in Ghana and Uganda.

At a results dissemination workshop to share preliminary findings of the study, Prof. Alex Anderson, speaking on the project's main outcomes, particularly on the acceptability/compliance and preliminary findings, mentioned that “The project has enabled us to identify a number of public health issues that otherwise would not have been known by just relying on participants recall.”

He announced that 13 peer-reviewed articles have so far been published since the commencement of the project.

He noted that by gaining a more accurate understanding of dietary patterns at the household level, interventions can be tailored more effectively to address specific nutritional needs, contributing to improved health outcomes in these regions.

Co-PI Prof. Matilda Steiner-Asiedu indicated the start of the project and the challenges encountered, stating, “We initiated the project in 2019, but unfortunately, COVID forced us to halt temporarily. Despite the challenges, our dedicated field assistants, who presented today, played a crucial role. We faced difficulties, and there were moments when people felt overwhelmed, but I am happy we have been able to come this far with the project.”

Regarding the development of dietary monitoring technologies based on the research outcomes, Prof. Steiner-Asiedu highlighted that the team is exploring options and seeking collaboration with experts like Prof. Elvis K. Tiburu, a Biophysicist at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, UG. She expressed hope of involving the College of Basic and Applied Sciences in the local development of these technologies.

During the dissemination workshop, Obed A. Harrison, Research Associate at the OR TAMBO Research Chair Initiative, University of Ghana, along with Richard S. Sarpong and Christabel Ampong Domfe, research assistants on the project, made respective presentations on the field activities.

The workshop was chaired by Prof. Augustine Ocloo, Dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Ghana. As the project progresses, the researchers remain dedicated to rigorously developing and validating the technology, ensuring its applicability in diverse dietary contexts. The ultimate goal is to empower communities in Ghana and Uganda with a tool that not only assesses but also informs strategies for better nutrition, fostering healthier and more resilient societies.