Africa is currently experiencing rapid change partly driven by increasing migration of individuals to cities. Dietary habits are also changing with increasing consumption of unhealthy foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients.
Such changes have resulted in increasing levels of obesity in cities, with rates higher for women. Policy responses have been limited in success so far, and are mostly influenced by experiences in higher income countries which are less relevant to African cities. There is also less understanding of the factors that drive food consumption in Africa, particularly the role that people’s social networks play (e.g. family or peer groups) and the neighbourhoods that individuals live in (e.g. access to fast food outlets). There is a need for stronger evidence that accounts for the environments that people live in to inform strategies to promote healthier food consumption in African cities.
Our project, entitled TACLED (Dietary Transitions in African Cities: Leveraging Evidence for interventions and policy to prevent Diet-related noncommunicable diseases), explores the factors that are associated with food consumption patterns (what people eat) and practices (how, where, when and with whom they eat) within two African cities (Nairobi and Accra). We will undertake novel approaches for collecting data on food consumption and practices, and the factors associated with them. The different approaches use both existing scientific evidence as well as including the views of local people and stakeholders in identifying solutions to the problem of eating poor quality high calorie diets. To do this, we will:
- review the state of knowledge throughout published research and analysing existing information on dietary behaviours;
- interview people about what kinds of food they eat and how they eat it (e.g. in a hurry, alone or with others) and
- use photography with local people to explore the factors that influence these decisions.
- map the food environment in people’s neighbourhoods (e.g. location and type of food outlets available) to explore how characteristics/features in the environment might influence people’s food consumption and practices.
Based upon the results of the above, we will identify the range of factors associated with dietary patterns and practices. We will then compare these factors to current policy approaches in these settings to assess which gaps may require addressing and identify interventions with local experts and policy makers that may be useful to do so.
The proposed research will strengthen existing partnerships, build new ones and enhance capacity in research. This will pave the way for development of new interventions that are more likely to be effective. We will share our results more widely with experts and policy makers from similar African cities via webinars, social media and regular updates on our project website. This will help them design effective strategies to improve dietary patterns and practices to tackle obesity.