Monday, December 22, 2014

Partners' F2F Volunteer Supports Planning of a New Dairy Consumption Campaign in Nicaragua

Katherine Wingert, attending the 
cheese fair in Managua.
By Katherine Wingert

Rising rates of soda and junk food consumption are commonplace in developing countries, and Nicaragua is no exception. While Nicaragua produces more dairy than any other country in Central America, Nicaraguan dairy consumption levels are very low. Some estimates put soda consumption at five times that of milk! With obesity on the rise in Nicaragua, particularly in the capital city of Managua, there is an increasing need for interventions to change dietary habits before they become an overwhelming burden.

With this in mind, the Nicaraguan Dairy Sector Chamber (CANISLAC),  with the support of Farmer-to-Farmer, is working on a new yogurt and milk consumption campaign that is geared toward promoting consumption in adolescents and mothers of young children. Because of my background in public health and behavior change, I was invited to spend three weeks with CANISLAC in October to support them in planning the campaign. After meeting with CANISLAC and realizing that very little is known about how parents and adolescents in Managua make food and beverage choices, we decided to conduct interviews and focus groups with different segments of the target populations. Doing so would lead to a better understanding of  how mothers and adolescents make decisions, and what types of information or other changes might encourage them to make healthier choices, particularly when it comes to choosing milk over sugary beverages.

Katherine Wingert, facilitating a discussion among high school 
students on the factors that influence dairy consumption.
While we were only able to conduct a limited number of interviews and focus groups during my time in the country, it was clear when we presented our preliminary results to CANISLAC and local dairy industry partners that the information would be of great value for the upcoming campaign. We found, for example, that many parents and teenagers are aware of the health benefits offered by drinking milk. However, because milk is not available in schools they end up choosing other options. A surprising number of parents and adolescents we spoke to also mentioned difficulties with lactose intolerance, suggesting potential demand for lactose-free products. Concerns over the quality and standards of local dairy industries were also voiced by many, signaling an opportunity for increasing dairy consumption through quality standards and conveying this information to the public. Lastly, price was mentioned as the number one determinant of food and beverage choices for many lower- and middle-income households. To increase consumption, CANISLAC will therefore need to consider how they can broaden access to dairy products. Promoting a policy policy, such as subsidizing milk products and/or taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one way to potentially shift the balance in favor of dairy and promote healthier eating habits.

While much remains to be done to make healthier foods and beverages the easy choice in Nicaragua, a thorough understanding of the problem is the best place to start, and the assistance of Farmer-to-Farmer is helping make that possible!

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