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The shift towards healthier food choices for children in Africa

Children in Africa who eat at school via a meal programme are still not actually getting enough to eat. This may be because their parents feed them less at home. That can be improved using insight into the behaviour of parents and children.

In order to improve child nutrition, Marlene Roefs, researcher at the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, will conduct research into the secondary effects of school meal programmes. An example of this would be an SNV programme in Uganda, in which children are given milk with their school meal. In South Africa, the supermarket SPAR, which has already advocated for healthy food, will be promoting vegetables in school meals. Roefs also wants to conduct research in Malaysia regarding refugee children from Myanmar who receive school meals.

All of this research is being conducted to answer the question of how the behaviour of children and parents can be changed so that they eat healthier food.

Previous research shows that only providing health information rarely results in a change in behaviour.
Marlene Roefs, researcher

She intends to research whether education about nutrition, along with distributing food, changes anything in the behaviour of children and if this ultimately affects the parents as well.

Children do the research

A promising development is that children are involving themselves in the study. SPAR supermarket, which has many small stores in poor regions, encourages the sale of healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers, including for school meals. Roefs wants to research whether the success of healthy school meals is greater when children are involved in the research themselves and ask their own parents about healthy food. 

'The involvement of children in the study is an excellent example of ‘participatory action research’', says Roefs. The researcher involves the people being investigated and progressively adapts the study. Roefs is working on this research in the Living Lab on behavioural change, together with Emely de Vet.

Beyond your own borders

Emely de Vet is a professor of health communication and behavioural change in the Strategic Communication chair group at Wageningen University. She researches how the social and physical food environment impacts eating behaviour and the specific options that this offers for implementing interventions to stimulate healthy eating.

De Vet: 'The Living Lab creates opportunities to look beyond your own borders and access the knowledge and expertise of your colleagues. Many of the social problems that we are working on in Wageningen are indisputably related to human behaviour. With the Living Lab, we can address these problems.'

Living lab is a new research approach where we not only use a lab-environment, but where we test behavioural insights in a multi-disciplinairy way and in a 'real-life'-situation with 'real people'. WUR, for instance, uses this method for behavioural research on nutrition and climate change.