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Using photography to help the people of Ghana make healthier diet choices

Loughborough researchers are hoping photographs taken by women in Ghana of what people eat and drink in their communities will encourage them to make healthier diet choices.

Ghana, like many other African countries, is currently experiencing rapid change, a key one being increasing migration to cities.

These changes have resulted in people having unhealthier diets in urban areas and an increase in diseases such as obesity and diabetes. But there is limited understanding of the factors that lead to dietary change – particularly the role that social environments play, such as family or friends, or the neighbourhoods that individuals live in, and their access to healthy food.

Loughborough Professor Paula Griffiths is joining a team of international researchers – led by the University of Sheffield – to investigate the drivers to dietary changes in Ghana, and why people in the country are choosing unhealthier foods over their traditional diet and what influences these choices.

Professor Griffiths, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, will be working in two Ghanaian cities, the capital Accra and the smaller provincial city of Ho. The project team will be recruiting 32 women, aged between 13 and 49, from the poorest groups of these communities and giving each of them a camera for a week.

During that time they will be asked to take photographs that reflect things about what they eat and drink and the things that influence food and drink choices in their community.

“We want to capture the good things that already exist in their community, as well as the things that need to change to help people lead more healthy lives,” explains Professor Griffiths.

“By handing participants cameras we are empowering them to tell their stories about the changes they are experiencing in the city to their diet, their experiences with food and the things that influence the things they eat and drink in their daily lives.

“At the end of the project every participant will select a photo that they would like to be exhibited, to highlight the story they want to tell about the things that affect food and drink choices in their community. We will be organising local exhibitions to generate as much impact as we can from their photographs, using them to identify interventions that could be adopted with local experts and policy makers to improve diets and harness the healthy aspects of traditional dietary habits.”

This ‘photovoice’ research is part of a larger project, which will see the creation of maps of food and drink outlets in the community, dietary assessments, meetings with stakeholders about their readiness to implement and receive interventions and a review of existing policy already in place that looks at healthy eating in Ghana.

Principal investigator of the study, Professor Michelle Holdsworth, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, said: “Diets are changing globally and dietary transition is now happening in most cities of the global south, including countries in Africa, Central and Latin America and Asia.  Here we see people’s habits are changing from a traditional plant-based diet – which are healthier – to a diet that is high in processed, energy dense convenience foods, rich in fat and sugar, but poor in nutrients.

“Unhealthy diets are associated with the rapid rise of diet-related diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.”

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