processed foods

An international research team is investigating how dietary transitions in Africa could prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Scientists in the UK will lead a team in Ghana exploring how dietary changes are influenced by increased migration to cities.

Increased migration is thought to be a reason behind people having unhealthier diets, but little is known about the mechanisms behind this, such as environment, access to healthy food and socioeconomic status.

“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,” said principal investigator of the study, Professor Michelle Holdsworth, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Type 2 diabetes is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, and the researchers will focus on the sharp increase of this condition, as well as its links with obesity and cardiovascular disease.

“We will undertake novel approaches for collecting data on food consumption and practices, and the factors associated with them,” said Dr Amos Laar, University of Ghana.

“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 World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the diabetes population will double in Africa over the next 25 years.

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.”