Tufts University

African Nutrition Revolution: Development without Obesity


Power a healthy-food revolution in Africa, to disrupt the transition from undernutrition to overnutrition – reversing the non-communicable disease epidemic while promoting entrepreneurship and development.

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Economic development in low-income countries is causing a transition from food scarcity and undernutrition to a deadly new crisis: an abundance of unhealthy foods causing a rapid increase in obesity, which in turn creates epidemics of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The African Nutrition Revolution will disrupt this cycle in three African nations, preventing premature deaths, complications like blindness, and devastating societal and economic costs, while developing an adaptable model for continent-wide deployment. For the first time, the supply and demand for healthy food will be increased to simultaneously improve nutrition and reduce obesity and NCDs. The team will deliver a proven, evidence-based portfolio of nutrition interventions, food entrepreneurship programs, and educational media, with coordination and cohesion among multiple stakeholders through holistic partnerships with communities, NGOs, and governments. Since food is central to life, this sustainable nutrition and entrepreneurship revolution addresses 10 UN Sustainable Development goals.

Problem Statement

In low-income countries, as economies improve, rates of obesity and NCDs rapidly increase to epidemic levels, especially in urban women, affecting both affluent and economically disadvantaged individuals. This “nutrition transition,” in which rates of childhood malnutrition decrease moderately while rates of adult and child obesity increase substantially, creates overwhelming economic and social burdens. The NCD Risk Factor Collaborative notes that the incidence of one NCD, diabetes, has more than doubled in Africa since 1980, and the current prevalence is estimated at 10% in women, with a continent-wide economic burden of US$3.3 billion/year. According to WHO more than 10 million adults aged 30-69 die from NCDs in Africa annually, nearly twice the combined deaths from child malnutrition, childbirth-related deaths, and HIV. NCDs frequently lead to debilitating consequences in Africa, including amputation, blindness, and cognitive impairment, and have profound societal costs: children not breastfed when obesity causes lactational failure, families paying for healthcare instead of education and healthy food, and overwhelmed health services. The underlying causes of obesity and NCDs are rising with national incomes and an increase in high-calorie, micronutrient-weak foods that cause overeating while also increasing hunger and food insecurity. Although the WHO and UN recognize this nutrition transition as a major crisis in low-income countries, to date no country has implemented the recommended multicomponent, participatory efforts needed to reverse escalating rates of obesity and NCDs, causing tens of millions to suffer while holding back economic development in the countries that need it most.

Solution Overview

The African Nutrition Revolution will change eating behaviors and the food supply in three Sub-Saharan countries, and develop an adaptable model for future continent-wide adoption. This solution will improve the health of individuals and societies, and through our synergistic, multi-sector approach, to change the systems in which the nutrition transition occurs. Both urban and rural populations will be included. Our model combines:· Nutrition Interventions. We will combine routine monitoring for obesity and NCDs in adults and children with “whole-of-community” environmental and behavioral programs, including the Diabetes Prevention Program and ChildObesity180’s interventions for communities and high-risk families. We will emphasize context-specific and culturally appropriate healthy food and activity for health-care systems, schools, and community organizations.· Entrepreneurship. We will work with existing startups and catalyze new startups focusing on expanding local healthy food markets and production using our “6+6” model for entrepreneurship ecosystem development, where activities and players are woven together to create successful programs.· National Communications. Through media and peer coaching, our social marketing and communications experts will disseminate nationwide education on obesity, NCDs and nutrition. · Capacity Building. Our train-the-trainer, community engagement, education, and leadership programs will create trained professionals to implement, monitor, evaluate, and sustain the African Nutrition Revolution.We will track short- and intermediate-term benchmarks at the population level to refine interventions. We project 60+ healthy-food startups, a 50% reduction in the prevalence of obesity and NCD risk in adults, and a 25% reduction in obesity in urban children over 5 years.

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