New project investigates the double burden of malnutrition in South Africa

Building on ACC’s continued work on urban food systems through projects such as The Hungry Cities Partnership, Consuming Urban Poverty, and Nourishing Spaces, The Nourished Child project explores the double burden of malnutrition in urban settings in the Western Cape, South Africa.

The new project, funded by the UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Collective Programme, seeks to understand the lived experiences of the food system and government interventions in this space, with a view to improving the system and designing a set of interventions and actions for enhanced nutritional outcomes for women and children under the age of 5.

The project is a collaboration between Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, the Africa Centre for Cities,  The Southern African Food Lab, and Division of Human Nutrition, University of Stellenbosch, as well as the Western Cape Government and UNICEF.

We are delighted to receive this award to have the opportunity to collaborate with world-class researchers and policymakers in the Western Cape, South Africa, to answer some fundamental questions about how to address the double burden of malnutrition. The results, drawn from close engagement with communities at risk of obesity and undernutrition, will be applicable around the world.

Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London

The research will focus on two sites, Masiphumelele, Cape Town and Zwelethemba, Worcester, were local government is already committed to improving food systems to address poor nutrition in these communities. Interviews with residents, documenting of their food environments and unpacking the engagement and effectiveness of government interventions, will inform recommendations for a system and set of actions that supports children and mothers to improve their nutritional and developmental outcomes.

According to Associate Professor and Co-Investigator Jane Battersby, to address the double burden of malnutrition — being both undernourished and susceptible to non-communicable diseases — there needs to be an understanding of both the food environment and the lived realities that determine people’s food choices in order to develop a range of relevant, fit-for-purpose interventions.

“When it comes to improving nutrition and diets, the onus is often put on the individual to make better food choices which neglects to account for the whole food system which shapes these choices,” explains Battersby. “Through this work we hope to increasing knowledge and shared understanding about this system; enhancing agency and accountability; and accelerating implementation of effective action.”

Associate Professor and Co-Investigator Jane Battersby

Recommendations and a 100-day Action Plan based on the research will be shared with the Western Cape government to aid the province in delivering its Nourish to Flourish food systems strategy to improve nutrition and food security more effectively.