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Arnold School of Public Health


HPEB researchers assess the progress of the Drivers of Food Choice program at the halfway mark

August 21, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Three years ago, associate professor Christine Blake and professor Edward Frongillo were awarded a $5.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government. Since then, the health promotion, education, and behavior researchers have been using the funds to manage a competitive grants program that supports research aimed at understanding drivers of food choice in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The purpose of the Drivers of Food Choice competitive grants program is to gain a deep understanding of the drivers of food choice among the poor in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa,” explains Blake. “This research will help guide on-going and future programs and research activities to improve food and nutrition security in low- and middle-income countries and to foster a community of practice in food choice research in developing countries.”   

Funding a total of 15 projects, an initial cohort of eight projects were supported in seven low-income countries (i.e., Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam) during the 2016-2018 funding period. Round two projects began their funding period (2018-2020) during the spring of this year. These projects focus on a range of topics, including agricultural subsidies, changes in retail food environment, maternal and child obesity, land permanence, changes in livelihood, and role of gender.

This summer, Blake, Frongillo and their team traveled to Ghana to participate in the 2018 Agriculture, Nutrition, & Health (ANH) Academy Week. The USC representatives* presented on the Drivers of Food Choice project and held a learning lab, where they taught participants about frameworks and methods for understanding and studying drivers of food choice as well as approaches to evaluation and effecting policy/program change. They also hosted a project meeting, which brought all available subgrantees, technical advisors, and funding agency representatives together to discuss synergies and ways to synthesize across paths. Representatives from all funded projects attended the conference, with several of the subgrantees presenting as well.

“We decided with input from our funders that the summer of 2018 was the perfect time to gather all subgrantees, technical advisors, and project staff together to meet and discuss the important work they are conducting to understand drivers of food choice in low- and middle-income countries,” says Blake. “This gathering of Drivers of Food Choice researchers was crucial for the work we need to do over the next two years and beyond, and the ANH Academy Week provided the perfect venue to foster a community of practice in food choice research in low- and middle-income countries.”

Leaders of the Ghana-based project, for example, presented multiple posters and talks during the conference to share their work mapping the factors in the social and physical food environments that drive consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages among women and adolescent girls in two Ghanian cities in different stages of transition. Their project aims to use this information to identify interventions targeting women and adolescent girls throughout the reproductive life course. Presentations by the Ghana team included a group poster, an oral talk by University of Sheffield public health professor Michelle Holdsworth and a case study presented by University of Ghana population, family, and reproductive health senior lecturer Amos Laar.

“There was a great deal of enthusiasm for these projects, and we are now moving to put some of these ideas into action,” Blake says. “We hope to see robust research results that demonstrate the impact of key drivers on food choice beginning to emerge over the next six months that have clear policy and program implications.”

*Christine Blake (Principal Investigator), Edward Frongillo (Co-Principal Investigator), Shilpa Constantinides (Program Coordinator), Shiva Bhandari, Andrea Warren, Ligia Reyes, and Marion Botchway.


Related:

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

HPEB’s Christine Blake shares nutritional expertise with invited talks at ILSI Research Foundation and Cornell University