Reviews of existing evidence on the ability of food-based interventions to improve nutrition consistently find that nutrition education (or its absence) is related to the project success in increasing access to healthy, diverse foods. This is also bearing true in high-income countries, where evaluations of efforts to improve access to nutrient-dense foods in low-income neighborhoods are not resulting in the intended dietary improvements.
Yet innovation in the area of food and nutrition education is often an afterthought, and is typically underfunded. The nutrition community often bemoans a perceived inability to compete with the well-funded corporate advertising campaigns seeking to sell less healthy products. Education efforts also tend to be poorly conceived, inadequately tested among the target audience who may also receive insufficient exposure to the promotional messages.
One promising innovation is FAO’s ENACT course now being implemented in 14 African countries. Participating undergraduates studying fields as diverse as medicine, agriculture, and nutrition are now equipped to effectively communicate and teach about food and nutrition.
In select African and Asian countries, Alive & Thrive has conducted well designed behavior change campaigns via diverse channels, including mass media as well as interpersonal counseling. This multifaceted approach is demonstrating positive results at scale.
The ability of well-designed food and nutrition education campaigns to deliver desired health and nutrition impacts depends on increased funding and research to these activities. The required investment should not be a deterrent, however: if marketing and promotion were not useful mechanisms for achieving increased consumption of specific foods, lucrative companies would not spend billions of dollars advertising their products.