ACC launches a new IDRC-funded project called Nourishing Spaces which investigates urban food systems in the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Africa, Kenya and Namibia.

The rising burden of NCDs across Africa is well-documented. This increase is being driven in part by increasing consumption of unhealthy diets (ultra-processed and fast foods). Based on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease Study 2015: “NCDs killed 15m people in developing countries in 2015―3.8m more than in 2000―with a corresponding increase of 28% in the burden of disease” (The Economist).

These diets are becoming more prevalent due to rapidly changing food systems, especially in urban parts of Africa, as a result of urbanisation and globalisation. For instance, global fast food franchises are expanding aggressively across major cities in Africa.

“These changing food systems and the related rise in diet-related non-communicable diseases cannot be sufficiently tackled by national-level government policies,” says project lead Dr Jane Battersby. “This is because diet-related non-communicable diseases are largely a problem of urban areas, yet there is a lack of urban-level research evidence available to local policymakers and stakeholders in most urban areas across Africa.”

Nourishing Spaces will be doing urban-scale research for addressing diet-related non-communicable diseases in six urban sites – Cape Town and Kimberley, South Africa; Windhoek and Oshakati, Namibia; and Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya. The sites represent a mix of large and mid-sized urban populations each experiencing progressive but varying degrees of change in their food systems, and varying but significant burdens of diet-related non-communicable diseases.

The proposed urban-scale research primarily includes conducting an assessment of urban household consumption patterns, geographic mapping of the local food retail environment, and analysing existing urban and national policies that may influence local food systems.

The project draws together a Pan-African, interdisciplinary team of researchers including ACC’s Gareth Haysom as a co-investigator and Dr Issahaka Fuseini, Ass. Prof. Tolu Oni and Dr Jo Hunter-Adams of the UCT School of Health and Public Medicine, Dr Ndeyapo Nickanor, University of Namibia for Windhoek and Oshikati, Prof Stephen Agong, Local Interaction Platform for Kisumu, Dr Sam Owuor, University of Nairobi and Carina Truyts, Sol Plaatje University, Kimberley.

Ultimately, Nourishing Spaces aims to support local governments and community stakeholders in each study site to utilise the knowledge generated from this research to develop local action plans and interventions that will help to reduce the burden of food-related non-communicable diseases.