Testing interventions to influence women's dietary decisions in South Africa

Obesity in South Africa is becoming a major public health issue for the country - nearly 60% of adult women and 31% percent of adult men are either obese or overweight. As a result, the country has one of the highest diet-related disease burdens in the world.

An estimated 29% of the deaths of South African women under the age of 60 are due to non-communicable disease, compared to 19% in countries with a similar income status. The increase in these diseases has been attributed to reduced physical activity, perinatal feeding practices, chronic stress, genetics, and cultural perceptions of body shape. The most striking contributing factor, however, has been a change in consumption patterns. Average caloric intake has risen steadily over the last decade, largely due to calories from fats and oils. At the same time, the share of fibre and non-starchy vegetables in the diet has declined and is insufficient for 80% of South Africans.

The South African National Department of Health issued a draft Integrated National Nutrition Strategy for public comment in March 2011. The strategy emphasizes the need to move beyond traditional interventions based on diagnosis and treatment to a large-scale preventive strategy. It also recognizes the importance of a research agenda that responds to national priorities for establishing an evidence-based culture for policymaking.

This project will respond to the need for more rigorous evidence to guide policies and preventive strategies and is intended as a pilot in preparation for a randomized impact evaluation. It will identify and test the effectiveness of interventions that can help women self-regulate their diets and that are culturally appropriate for black women in South Africa. It will also synthesise lessons from existing literature reviews on consumption behaviours and pinpoint lessons for South Africa.

The project will involve six months of desk and field research to design and pilot dietary ''nudge'' interventions and data collection instruments. It will host a workshop with researchers, local nutrition specialists and social anthropologists, government stakeholders, and potential implementers to discuss evidence on the psychology of dietary behaviour and practical solutions to improve nutrition decisions. It will develop a set of data collection instruments designed to capture reliable and innovative information on self-regulation strategies and dietary consumption. It will also develop protocols for implementing field-tested interventions targeting diet decision-making behaviour by the poor. Finally, it will produce a proposal for a full-scale randomized control trial of one or more of the interventions that could be effective in improving nutrition behaviours of the target population.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

End Date

Saturday, November 9, 2013


8 months

IDRC Officer

Geneau, Robert

Total funding

CA$ 37,100


South Africa, South of Sahara


Food, Environment, and Health

Project Leader

Kamilla Gumede


University of Cape Town

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website