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Arnold School of Public Health


University of South Carolina researchers receive award to support new research on food choice

June 22, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Two University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health researchers have been awarded a $5.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government to manage a competitive grants program that supports research aimed at understanding the drivers of food choice in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Associate Professor Christine Blake and Professor Edward Frongillo, from the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior in the Arnold School, will manage the grant. The Drivers of Food Choice grants program will provide funding over five years for research that has the potential to guide programs and research activities to improve food and nutrition security in poor countries.

"A better understanding of the drivers of food choice would provide guidance for more effective nutrition-sensitive programs," says Blake, who will serve as principal investigator for the project. "Improving nutrition across the life course is essential for the long-term well-being of families and communities and for successful economic and social advancement."

The investigators will form an expert technical advisory group of international scholars with expertise in nutrition, agriculture and health promotion programming in the targeted regions. The team will design a request for proposals, solicit applications from diverse organizations, manage the review and selection of sub-grantees, facilitate the delivery of light technical assistance to sub-grantees to ensure project success, coordinate dissemination of findings, and synthesize findings from funded projects to inform the wider literature on food choice and provide directions for future work in this area.

The program aims to fund research projects that provide a deep understanding of the drivers of food choice among the poor in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Funded studies will use qualitative or quantitative methods or both to examine key aspects of food choice in one or more of the 34 countries that account for 90 percent of the global burden of undernutrition. "Many countries experience the double burden of undernutrition and increasing prevalence of obesity which is related to recent rapid changes in traditional dietary practices," Blake says. Studies that have the potential to strengthen country-level leadership in nutrition to support future efforts will be prioritized for funding.

Evidence-based, nutrition-specific interventions with the most potential for improving nutrition outcomes have resulted in the identification of key challenges to success, included limited knowledge about drivers of food choice in low- and middle-income countries. Food choices are integral to social and economic expression of identities, preferences, and cultural meanings and ultimately influence nutrient intake and health. Understanding the drivers of food choice involves the study of interconnected biological, psychological, economic, social, cultural and political factors.