The reasons for the increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in sub-Saharan African countries are complex, as much recent research has shown. So-called ‘lifestyle’ factors (including dietary change) may play a less central part than was previously thought. But diet is nevertheless an important component of this picture. The urban stores in Malawi (as in so many low and middle income countries) are flooded with sugared drinks, including cleverly marketed versions of traditional beverages such as thobwa. Malawian consumers are also being encouraged to buy ‘energy’ drinks and snacks, many packed with sugar. However, how much sugar is usually far from clear, owing to a lack of nutritional information on the labels. Amongst this array of new foods, my attention was caught by one pack of biscuits, manufactured by a local company, declaring itself high in protein. When I picked it up, it seemed suspiciously light. There was no nutritional information on the packet, though I did later find another packet (in blue rather than green) that did display some information, none of which indicated the protein content. Malawi is a country where the lack of a regular supply of protein in the diet is a problem for a large number of people. Marketing a ‘high protein’ biscuit therefore should come with a degree of responsibility. Together with a Malawian campaigning journalist, we plan to raise the profile of this issue and put pressure on government regulators to test products and improve the nutritional information on them.

About Megan Vaughan

Megan Vaughan joined the Institute of Advanced Studies at UCL in October 2015 as Professor of African History and Health. Her work, which crosses disciplinary boundaries, has focused on the history of medicine and psychiatry in Africa, on the history of famine, food supply and gender relations and on slavery in the Indian Ocean region.