Nutrition

  • Optifood: A new tool to improve diets and prevent child malnutrition in Guatemala

    What does it REALLY take to ensure young children get the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy? This is an especially important question in poor rural communities in Guatemala, where about half of the children under five years of age are stunted (too short for their age—a sign of long-term deficits in the quantity and/or quality of food, including the right vitamins and minerals). In some parts of western Guatemala, more than eight in ten young children are stunted.

    Now there’s a new tool to help answer the question: Optifood is a computer software program, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), and Blue Infinity, that provides scientific evidence on how to best improve children’s diets at the lowest possible cost using locally available foods. Optifood identifies nutrient gaps and suggests food combinations the local diet can fill—or come as close to filling. It also helps identify local foods’ limits in meeting nutrient needs and test strategies for filling remaining nutrient gaps, such as using fortified foods or micronutrient powders that mothers mix into infant or young children’s porridge.

    The Government of Guatemala is fighting stunting through its Zero Hunger Initiative, which aims to reduce stunting by 10 percent by 2015 and 24 percent by 2022 through nutrition, health, agriculture, and social safety net programs. The U.S. Government and USAID are supporting these efforts through Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives focused on the Western Highlands. USAID/Guatemala asked the USAID-funded FANTA/FHI 360 to help find strategies to improve the nutritional quality of children’s diets in the region. The challenge was to develop realistic and affordable diets for children that both meet their needs and are firmly based on scientific evidence. FANTA worked with its local partner, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), to collect the diet data needed for Optifood from communities in two departments of the Western Highlands, Huehuetenango and Quiché. FANTA then used Optifood to analyze the information.

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  • In Vietnam, our Alive & Thrive project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched an innovative social franchise model – Mat Troi Be Tho – to provide high-quality nutrition consultation services. The franchise has been exceptionally effective in Vietnam where high malnutrition rates persist. The Mat Troi Be Tho brand signifies professional, trustworthy and high-quality services in a welcoming and child-friendly environment.

    This is the first time that social franchise principles have been applied to infant and young child feeding counseling services. Counseling focuses on recommended feeding practices to optimize child growth and development in the first 2 years of life. Nearly 800 franchises have been set up in government health facilities throughout Vietnam.

    Watch the video below to learn more about Mat Troi Be Tho and our Alive & Thrive project.

  • ROADS II: Transforming corridors of risk into pathways of prevention and hope

  • FHI 360 livelihoods project hosts Twitter chat and launches new website

    On May 23rd, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. EDT, FHI 360’s Livelihoods and Food Security Technical Assistance (LIFT) project, Agrilinks and USAID Global Health will be co-hosting an #AskAg Twitter chat on the “Intersection of HIV/AIDS and Food Security” as a part of Global Health month at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

    Twitter chats are virtual social media conversations on specific topics. The Agrilinks’ #AskAg series is a monthly event that convenes different partners to discuss current topics in agriculture and food security. These events leverage social media to facilitate new types of knowledge exchange between technical experts and chat participants from around the world. This month, we’ll have a panel of expert tweeters, including LIFT’s Meaghan Murphy, to discuss approaches to improve food security, particularly for those affected by HIV or AIDS.

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  • FANTA – A Technical Assistance Program that Improves Nutrition for People Living with HIV

    Arénia Massingue is a master trainer from the National Nurses Association in Mozambique (Associação Nacional de Enfermeiros em Moçambique [ANEMO]). Massingue, who was trained by the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) project on home-based nutrition care for people living with HIV (PLHIV), explains how what she learned helped her work: “We can now see a change in behavior among our beneficiaries. Before health activists started educating them about nutrition, there was a common belief that eating well was eating purchased goods. For example, many believed that the best fruit juice was the one they bought from the store, even though they had oranges in their garden. Now they know that the oranges in their garden can produce a juice that is not only cheaper, but also more nutritious.”

    Since being trained by FANTA, ANEMO master trainers trained 55 community-based organization (CBO) trainers. To date, the CBO trainers have trained 440 heath activists, home-based health care workers who provide counseling to PLHIV. PLHIV are counseled on the importance of using locally available foods in a balanced diet, management of HIV-related symptoms through diet, and potential drug-food interactions. Health activists also provide cooking demonstrations using recipes they learned during the training to help PLHIV meet their increased energy needs and eat a balanced, healthy diet. ANEMO, the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare and Ministry for Health are also working in collaboration with FANTA to integrate nutrition into the government’s official training curriculum for home-based care workers.

    FANTA is a project that works globally to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable groups through technical support to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its governmental and nongovernmental partners. The project improves nutritional outcomes by strengthening policies, programs and systems for maternal and child health and nutrition, nutrition and HIV and other infectious diseases, food security and livelihood strengthening, agriculture and nutrition linkages, and emergency assistance during nutrition crises.

    For more information about FANTA, email the project at fantamail[at]fhi360.org.

  • “A product that pretty much sells itself”: Packaging our field experience so it’s irresistible

    While working on a U.S.-based project on obesity, I’d had a gratifying experience with concept testing. It confirmed what I’d thought for a long time – that concept testing, or trying a variety of concepts or message approaches with real audience members, can help you hone in on messages that really resonate.

    I wanted to share my excitement and convince my international development colleagues that concept testing could work for them, too. So, I put together a PowerPoint for practitioners like myself, in the business of behavior change.

    Despite a warm reception from my colleagues at a lunchtime presentation, a couple of eager 20-somethings were having trouble keeping their eyes open for the full 40 minutes. I tried again in one of our field offices overseas, but it didn’t really make sense to them because the whole project, focusing on obesity, was so very American. And even with a select, receptive audience (okay, I guess people closer to my demographic could sit through it…), my beautifully animated PowerPoint didn’t work without me there to deliver the story. I had a product, but I had to work pretty hard to sell it.

    What I needed was a product that pretty much sells itself.

    I needed a new case study on concept testing: one that featured an experience outside the U.S., and one that people could use and navigate on their own time and at their own pace. I turned to a younger colleague on our project, one who had been teaching herself the basics of video editing, is not intimidated by online mechanics, has a great sense of design, and “gets it” when it comes to behavior change.

    Fortunately, our staff in Bangladesh liked the idea of concept testing, and with a little coaching by e-mail, had tried a version of it themselves. They were sold on concept testing as a way to focus their messaging before they dove into script writing for TV spots. Now we had a non-U.S.-based story to share.

    My colleague and I shut the office door and surfed YouTube. We had a sweeping story that we wanted to tell succinctly. We typed in “movie trailers.” Voila: Gone with the Wind, the whole epic story summed up in 2½ minutes. We knocked ourselves out with a funny “how to” video on making a poster, and a complex lecture about the changing world of work, amusingly illustrated with text and cartoons, drawn as we watched.

    Inspired, we started writing scripts for our own short “how to” videos and cobbled together some mock-ups, using the visuals and software we had at hand.

    With no budget beyond our labor, we built a prototype web site with three short videos and took it out for a road test. We sat with a few colleagues and asked them to open the Beta version. One reviewer reminded us that a popular book on Web design is titled “Don’t make me think.” We reworked the page to make its purpose clear. We learned a lot about how to make our content shorter . We watched as people puzzled over what the site offered them – then taught ourselves to write explicit, brief text to tell them how they could put the tools to use. We learned that busy practitioners would delight in a sample script or research instrument. They told us they would download it and tuck it away for a training or technical assistance opportunity.

    We launched in late March 2012. Already we’ve seen an uptick in visits to Alive & Thrive’s (A&T) Web site. During the three weeks after launch, the rate of people visiting the A&T site was almost double the rate of visitors in several recent months. We’ve gotten practitioners’ attention. One official cited the case study kit as the reason she thought to invite our Bangladesh country director to present at a regional conference.

    Right now we’re deep into scripting our second kit: this one on engaging fathers in infant and young child feeding. And building on what we’ve learned, this time the videos will be two to three minutes, not four to five.

    Technology makes glitz easy. But it takes more than glitz. Thinking like marketers has taken us a bit closer to building a product that “pretty much sells itself.”

    Access full case study at  www.aliveandthrive.org/research-to-action.