July 20, 2024
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Digital Communication as a Tool for Improving Nutrition in Northern Ghana

Tamale, July 9, 2024 – A new study spearheaded by the University of Ghana is exploring the potential of digital communication to address malnutrition in Northern Ghana.

As malnutrition continues to be a critical public health challenge, affecting individuals across all demographics, innovative strategies are needed to combat its prevalence.

The research project led by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana, Legon, and supervised by the International Centre for Evaluation and Development (ICED) sought to understand how using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages as a mode of communicating nutrition and WASH education can change household behaviours for positive nutrition and health outcomes among the rural poor in Northern Ghana.

After conducting research fieldwork over 3 years across four regions in Northern Ghana within 232 rural communities, the research project found policy-relevant results.

At a day’s workshop in Tamale, organisers say this research will provide stakeholders insights into how digital communication can be deployed for rural education and its impact on household behaviours.

Speaking to the media after the workshop, the Leader of the team, Professor Robert Darko Osei highlighted that, one of the reasons for the study is the fact that the country must work at improving the general well-being of the people and also considering the Northern Regions of Ghana, consistently many places are recording the highest incidence of poverty.

The issue then is, how can we educate our brothers and sisters who are in these areas to explore some of the things that are in the environment that will improve nutrition outcomes?

According to Mr. Darko, the team’s interest was to try and understand whether there are cost-effective ways of changing behaviour in a manner that impacts positively on Nutrition, Health and Sanitation outputs. He further added that the literature points to the fact that behaviour change is a critical part of changing nutrition outcomes.

And so the question then was that, how then do we change behaviour in a way that will translate into positive nutrition outputs, so that was our starting point, of course, we also appreciate that for the various programs that have been put out to try and deal with the nutrition issues, they have involved either visit to poor households or training for poor households or information to poor households in a physical way.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in an individual’s intake of energy and nutrients. This broad definition encompasses undernutrition (including wasting, stunting, and being underweight), micronutrient deficiencies or excesses, and overnutrition-related non-communicable diseases such as obesity and heart disease.

Globally, malnutrition remains a pressing issue, especially among children under five years old. According to WHO’s 2022 data, 149 million children were stunted, 45 million were wasted, and 37 million were overweight.

In rural areas, the rates of stunting and wasting were found to be 1.6 times higher than in urban areas. Alarmingly, 45% of child deaths are linked to undernutrition, with only 25% of children aged 6 to 23 months consuming a sufficiently diverse diet.

The Research highlights the pivotal role of individual behaviour in improving nutrition and health outcomes.

Communication is a powerful tool for influencing these behaviours. Studies have indicated that nutrition education delivered via radio can significantly enhance health-related knowledge, attitudes, and practices.

Digital interventions, including social media, have also shown promise in promoting health behaviour change, albeit with mixed impacts on nutritional outcomes.

Leveraging digital communication tools presents a cost-effective method to drive nutrition outcomes, particularly among poor rural households.

This approach is based on the premise that technology can effectively contribute to behaviour change when utilized correctly.

The University of Ghana’s study aims to investigate whether digital communication can positively influence health and nutrition outcomes among poor rural households in Northern Ghana.

The research employs a robust ex-ante design, involving selected households from the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program.

Households were categorized based on the presence of children under different age groups and randomly assigned to treatment or control groups.

The treatment groups received targeted nutrition messages, while the control groups did not, allowing for a comparative analysis of the impact of digital communication.

This study could pave the way for broader adoption of digital communication strategies to combat malnutrition in rural settings.

If successful, such interventions could be scaled up, offering a sustainable solution to improve nutrition and health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

The findings from this research are eagerly anticipated, as they hold the potential to transform how nutrition education and health promotion are conducted in resource-limited settings, ultimately contributing to the global fight against malnutrition.

By Robicon Mornahson

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