An international team of researchers, led by the University of Sheffield, are investigating what drives unhealthy dietary changes in order to prevent diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
The pioneering project will investigate dietary transitions in Ghana which, like many other African countries, is currently experiencing rapid change partly driven by increasing migration to cities.
These changes have resulted in people having unhealthier diets in cities, but there is limited understanding of the factors that drive dietary change – particularly the role that social environments play, such as family or friends, or the neighbourhoods that individuals live in, and their access to healthy food.
Principal investigator of the study, Professor Michelle Holdsworth, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “Diets are changing globally and dietary transition is now happening in most cities of the global south, including countries in Africa, Central and Latin America and Asia, where people’s habits are changing from a traditional plant-based diet – which are healthier – to a diet that is high in processed, energy dense convenience foods, rich in fat and sugar, but poor in nutrients.
“Unhealthy diets are associated with the rapid rise of diet-related diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and some cancers.”
The research will be conducted in collaboration with the University of Ghana, University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ghana , Loughborough University, University of Liverpool, , and the French Agricultural Research & International Cooperative Organization (CIRAD).
Dr Amos Laar, lead of the study at the University of Ghana, said: “We will undertake novel approaches for collecting data on food consumption and practices, and the factors associated with them.
“The different approaches will include collecting the views of communities and stakeholders in identifying solutions to the problem of eating unhealthy diets. We will be interviewing women and adolescent girls about what kinds of food they eat by using photography to explore the factors that influence these decisions.”
The project is funded by a grant from the Drivers of Food Choice (DFC) Competitive Grants Programme which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DFID), and managed by the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, USA.
DFC supports new research on understanding food choice among the poor in low and middle-income countries, strengthening country-level leadership in nutrition and fostering a global community of food-choice researchers.
Dr Francis Zotor, lead for the study in the Ghanaian city of Ho, added: “We will also be mapping the food environment in people’s neighbourhoods to explore how features of the environment might influence people’s diets to help us identify interventions with local experts and policy makers that could be effective in improving diets and maintaining traditional dietary habits.”
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