02 October 2012
Transforming Africa's Nutrition Landscape
The theme is Transforming the African Nutrition Landscape. And it needs transforming—unlike other development indicators, rates of stunting (short height for age) for preschool children are declining at an extremely slow rate (WHO says from about 41% in 1990 to only 37% as the projection for 2020. This matters, because stunting is the composite wellbeing indicator from hell. Every insult from conception to birth through the first two years of life is captured in a grisly physiological index.
My talk, as you can guess, was about how we need to transform the way we: think about nutrition (focus more on creating an enabling environment), hold governments and donors to account, track and leverage funds, develop leadership and innovate around communication. The powerpoints are here.
The Congress is very focused on nutrition processes within the body and it is a long time since I knew anything about the Krebs Cycle. But there are plenty of sessions and presentations I could relate to—here are some from day 1:
• Anna Lartey (U. of Ghana), the incoming International Union of Nutrition Sciences (IUNS) President, was inspirational, bringing her low key passion to the proceedings, with her focus on leadership, action and urgency. She emphasised that while the commitment to undernutrition is high right now, it will not last forever and we need to lock in the commitment now
• Alan Jackson (U. of Southampton, UK) was excellent on the issues of obesity and overnutrition. He told us about the status of the fetal programming research--how birth weight affects health risks later in life (development plasticity)--even after 50 years of potentially mediating effects. The evidence is stronger and stronger that fetal programming and variations in LBW are significant in magnitude (one study showed an increasing risk of chronic disease by 20% for a one kg drop in birth weight). Alan highlighted several systematic reviews and interestingly he thought that they were helping the nutrition community to become more influential with policymakers (now there is a hypothesis to test).
• Esi Colecraft (U. of Ghana) presented a study of the nutrition content of agricultural training programmes supported by the Ghanaian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). Key findings: (a) Of 72 academic staff in the 4 MoA colleges, only 4 had any training in nutrition related topics (and they were in home economics and food science), (b) of 180 courses offered by the 4 colleges, only 4 had any nutrition content (on cookery and home economics), (c) some of the staff interviewed said they wanted more nutrition in their curricula (although some of those rationalised this perspective by saying it was a way to get their products consumed), but some said they thought there did not need to be any more nutrition content because “we are agriculturalists”. Those who wanted more nutrition content highlighted the barriers between agriculture and nutrition: hiring practices in terms of essential requirements for a position and a very vague notion of what nutrition is by those in decision making power. This study was quite modest in ambition and, I suspect, resources but we need more studies like this--for a wide group of countries--to understand barriers and formulate strategies to get greater convergence between agriculture and nutrition.
• Zandile Mchiza (Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa) presented a content analysis of 665 advertisements in the 3-5pm children/family slot time in the South African Broadcast Corporation not for pay TV channels (SABC channels 1-3). She found that 51% of the food adverts during the 3-5 pm time slot were for foods of poor nutritional value. Amazingly, a substantial proportion of the alcohol ads were in this time slot too. Only 8% of ads were for healthy foods. Clearly there is a need for the current advertising laws to be enforced. There was a discussion was around what to do next? Approach the Government of South Africa? SABC itself? Or the media? No conclusion, but I would go to the Mail and Guardian. Headline? SABC breaks law and puts commerce ahead of the health of South African children.
Posted by Lawrence Haddad at 05:53