Partnership research on nutrition transition and chronic diseases in West Africa – trends, outcomes and impacts

TRANSNUT, WHO Collaborating Centre on Nutrition Changes and Development, Department of Nutrition, University of Montreal, P,O, Box 6128, Station Main, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada. .
BMC International Health and Human Rights (Impact Factor: 1.44). 11/2011; 11 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S10. DOI: 10.1186/1472-698X-11-S2-S10
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Nutrition-related chronic diseases (NRCD) are rising quickly in developing countries, and the nutrition transition is a major contributor. Low-income countries have not been spared. Health issues related to nutritional deficiencies also persist, creating a double burden of malnutrition (DBM). There is still a major shortage of data on NRCD and DBM in Sub-Saharan Africa. A research program has been designed and conducted in partnership with West African institutions since 2003 to determine how the nutrition transition relates to NRCD and the DBM in order to support prevention efforts.
In Benin, cross-sectional studies among apparently healthy adults (n=540) from urban, semi-urban and rural areas have examined cardiometabolic risk (hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance) in relation to diet and lifestyle, also factoring in socio-economic status (SES). Those studies were followed by a longitudinal study on how risk evolves, opening the way for mutual aid groups to develop a prevention strategy within an action research framework. In Burkina Faso, a cross-sectional study on the nutritional status and dietary patterns of urban school-age children (n=650) represented the initial stages of an action research project to prevent DBM in schools. A cross-sectional study among adults (n=330) from the capital of Burkina Faso explored the coexistence, within these individuals, of cardiometabolic risk factors and nutritional deficiencies (anemia, vitamin A deficiency, chronic energy deficiency), as they relate to diet, lifestyle and SES.
The studies have shown that the prevalence of NRCD is high among the poor, thereby exacerbating social inequalities. The hypothesis of a positive socio-economic (and rural-urban) gradient was confirmed only for obesity, whereas the prevalence of hypertension, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia did not prove to be higher among affluent city dwellers. Women were particularly affected by abdominal obesity, at 48% compared to 6% of men. Protective factors against the risk of NRCD were physical activity and adequate micronutrient intake. The research also showed that nutritional deficiencies were not restricted to schoolchildren in rural areas because in the capital of Ouagadougou, for example, 40% of schoolchildren were anaemic and 40% were vitamin A deficient. Partnership research has expanded to include advocacy and human resources training.
These initial studies on NRCD in West Africa indicate the relevance and urgency of prevention, even among low-income groups and countries. They show that the fight against NRCD as well as nutritional deficiencies should focus on women. Seeing how researchers from the African partner institutions have connections with decision-making authorities, the research findings could have an impact on prevention policies and programs in communities and schools alike. Greater support must nevertheless be provided to lobbying and advocacy work for an even greater impact. As well, the sustainability of the research program remains a challenge that requires resource mobilization and training for the purpose.

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