Tackling school and community drivers of children's unhealthy diets in Arab cities
Low and middle-income countries of the Arab region are undergoing a rapid nutrition transition with increases in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among young and adult populations accompanied by a rise in diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Although children’s food choices and dietary behaviours are early risk factors for the development of NCDs, research on what influences these behaviours remains scant in the region. School and neighbourhood environments have the potential to counter the effect of societal forces on children’s diets, but little is known about the drivers of children’s food choices within these environments and their potential to be used as levers for intervention.
This research project, implemented in collaboration with the American University of Beirut, aims to inform context-specific interventions targeting childhood overweight in the urban settings of Greater Beirut and Greater Tunis, and ultimately to foster the development of food environments that enable healthy eating among children and their families. The research uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to assess individual diets and the contextual factors that influence children’s food choices. Innovative locally relevant tools will be developed to describe and map food environments and food choices experienced by children at the level of families, schools, and communities. The aim is to identify moments in the daily lives of children that represent threats to, and opportunities for, healthy eating. These results, together with nutrition survey data, will inform the development of interventions that influence children’s eating in Lebanon and Tunisia. Possible interventions may include school and community-level food policies with the potential for replicability in similar urban contexts of the region.