New centre to study nutrition

CATEGORY: Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation
DATE: 15 March 2010

New centre to study nutrition

For South Africa to be effective in its interventions into the underlying causes of undernutrition or the chronic lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, an approach needs to be developed to better understand the mechanisms that link social factors to nutrition.

It is for this reason that the new HSRC Centre for the Study of the Social and Environmental Determinants of Nutrition was established, which was launched by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on 15 March in Cape Town.

The Centre will add a new dimension to the acknowledged and rich research culture of the HSRC, and is well placed to become an important tool able to undertake upstream research leading to policy recommendations in order to improve the nutritional status of the population, says CEO Dr Olive Shisana.

Professor Demetré Labadarios, who heads up the Centre, explains: "Increasingly it is being realised that better knowledge and understanding at the molecular level of nutrition, on its own, is rather inadequate in understanding the underlying causes of, for example, the increasing prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other so called chronic diseases of lifestyle.

"What is perhaps of greater interest, and complexity, is the inadequate success, or rather at times major failure, in our interventions to combat the ills of under- and over-nutrition, which in the South African and other developing countries context do actually coexist in a given household."

The Centre aims to investigate, the integration of the molecular and the social aspects of nutrition, to enhance the quality of life of the country's population through excellence in nutrition research and its dissemination. It will undertake innovative and collaborative research into the social and environmental factors of nutrition which will lead to the improvement of nutrition knowledge and nutritional status in the country, the continent and internationally

Objectives of the Centre

The Centre aims to achieve the following:

    •    To enhance the quality of life of the country's population through excellence in nutrition research and its dissemination;
    •    To undertake innovative as well as collaborative research in the social and environmental determinants of nutrition which will lead to the improvement of nutrition knowledge and nutritional status in the country, the continent and internationally;
    •    To serve as a resource centre in knowledge of African diets and foods; and
    •    To create a research environment conducive to training as well as personal and professional growth.

Projects in the pipeline

The Centre has laid the foundations to undertake several projects, including the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is a national survey repeated over time (longitudinal), that addresses the health, nutritional status, emerging disease patterns in relation to nutrition, risk behaviours and the social and environmental determinants of nutrition. This would also be an excellent opportunity to assess how well social grants are assisting with regard to the food security of these groups.

Another project is on food security, which addresses the social and environmental factors that influence the kind of food South Africans eat or where they purchase their food. This study would provide information that may highlight the coexistence of obesity and micronutrient deficiencies within the same household.

The Modelling of the Epidemiologic Transition Survey is also a longitudinal (4 year) multi country study (Ghana, Jamaica, Seychelles, South Africa (Cape Town) and US), aimed at comparing the metabolism equivalence of African women, and looking at the westernisation of diets from both a developed and developing country perspective.
The African Taskforce on Obesity project is a multi-country study (Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa), involving a task force consisting of researchers within the HSRC, UCT and UWC, who will map the prevalence of obesity in the continent and formulate guidelines and policies (national and regional) on the prevention and treatment of obesity.
Labadarios says the Centre will also serve a resource of knowledge of African diets and foods and will create a research environment conducive to training.

For interviews:

Professor Demetré Labadarios
Executive Director
Knowledge Systems
Human Sciences Research Council
Tel: +27 (0)21 466 7804
Cell: 082 772 6961
Email: dlabadarios@hsrc.ac.za

Dr Nelia Steyn
Chief Research Specialist
Knowledge Systems
Human Sciences Research Council
Tel: +27 (0)21  466 7832
Cell: 082 449 8057
Email: npsteyn@hsrc.ac.za

For general enquiries:
Ina van der Linde
Media Liaison
Human Sciences Research Council
Tel : +27 (0)12 302 2024
Cell : 082 331 0614