Nutrition education plays a key role in promoting healthy and sustainable diets for all. In many parts of the world, professional training in nutrition education remains scarce. The need for competent professionals skilled to conduct nutrition education interventions is especially great in countries where undernutrition coexists with growing rates of overnutrition and associated non-communicable diseases. Funded by the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), and in collaboration with numerous African universities and the Dutch University of Wageningen, FAO launched the nutrition education course ENACT – Education for effective Nutrition in Action – in 2012. The course aims to promote long-term improvements in diets, giving special attention to social and environmental contexts, in all relevant sectors and in the whole food cycle, including production, processing, marketing, and consumption.
FAO’s needs assessment conducted in 2010 in seven African countries revealed a lack of suitable approaches and relevant trainings to promote nutrition behavior change.
Two years later FAO launched the programme Education for effective Nutrition in Action (ENACT), a course which trains university students, agriculturists, nurses, health service managers, community workers and NGO staff to conduct nutrition education interventions for behavior change, ranging from planning to evaluation. While developing necessary competencies for their professional lives, course participants also learn how to improve their own diets and how to address nutrition-related threats in their communities.
“We are now aware that nutrition education is so important at all levels”, an ENACT student from Cameroon remarks.
ENACT was piloted successfully between 2012 and 2014 in Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. Shortly after, the course was translated into French and piloted with universities in Francophone African coutries, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon and Niger.
Improving students’ capacities
The four-month course has been integrated into various university programmes and mainly uses the tutorial teaching method, which emphasizes practice and experience, focusing on students’ active participation by making them the main actors of their own learning process.
“The lecture method trained us to remember what the lecturer said but the tutorial method made us think”, an ENACT student from Ghana explains. The course specifically targets students who plan to promote nutrition behavior change in their future professional practices, e.g. in nutrition, medicine, agriculture and social science.
Overall feedback was very positive, with 86 percent of participating tutors and 82 percent of participating students rating the practical activities using pedagogical approaches as “very useful”. An external evaluation showed that the programme succeeded in increasing professional capacity by preparing students to pursue careers in national governments and intergovernmental organizations, as community or health workers, agriculture extension agents, etc.
“I now feel very capable to help people improve their diets and their food behavior”, an ENACT student from Cameroon confirms. Course participants are also prepared to effectively integrate nutrition education into national policies, strategies and nutrition-sensitive interventions.
Scaling up nutrition education
After successful piloting, partner universities conducted national multi-sectoral workshops at various levels and with relevant stakeholders, e.g. NGOs, governments, training institutions and UN agencies, with the aim to develop a joint strategy for mainstreaming nutrition education into policies and programmes, and in order to integrate training into university curricula.
The workshops gave stakeholders an opportunity to strengthen their involvement and collaboration with nutrition education training, as well as defining related roles and responsibilities. While some added the course to existing programmes, others created a professional Master’s degree in nutrition education. The course was also successfully integrated in English-speaking piloting countries, and is expected to start in the academic year 2016/2017. All French-speaking countries aim to launch ENACT during the back-to-school period in 2017/2018.
FAO is currently promoting ENACT through orientation sessions in other African universities, and through trainer’s trainings during regional conferences. FAO is also exploring how to adapt courses to Asian and Latin American countries according to their needs and interests. An online version of the course has been prepared and piloted and will be available shortly. All programme versions are available in English and French, and can be integrated in the curricula of interested universities.