Strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations to advocate for healthier food environment policies in Kenya

December 14, 2023

CONTRIBUTORS

Research Scientist

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Jane Valentine Mangwana

Advocacy Manager

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Kenya is facing an increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) due to unhealthy food choices. The 2022 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) revealed that 50 percent of women aged 20 to 49 are either obese or overweight, and 20 percent of men in the same age group were found to be obese. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), being overweight or obese has a negative impact on a person’s health, as both are major risk factors for several nutrition-related chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The burden of these diseases is closely linked to lifestyle factors, with poor dietary habits playing a central role. High intake of foods high in salt, sugar, unhealthy fats, and low consumption of fruits and vegetables contribute to the alarming rise in NCDs. 

Significant strides have been made in addressing the complex interplay between nutrition, health, and the broader food environment, particularly in high-income countries. Food environment is defined as the physical, economic, policy, and sociocultural factors that influence people’s choice of food and drinks and nutritional status. Kenya lacks comprehensive policies that regulate the food environment, leading to the consumption of unhealthy foods by the population. The overconsumption of unhealthy diets that are energy-dense and nutrient-poor is implicated in the onset of diet-related NCDs. Therefore, the Kenyan government must adopt and implement policy frameworks that promote and support healthy eating habits. Creating a sustainable and healthy food environment requires long-term commitment from all stakeholders, including government, industries, healthcare professionals, and consumers.

Civil society plays a vital role in advocating for policies that improve population health. It is therefore important to equip them with essential skills in policy engagement and existing evidence to support food environment policies.  

On September 18 and 19 this year, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) held an in-person training workshop for CSOs working in the NCD sector. The objective of the workshop was to strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations to understand the four policies proposed for implementation as a bundle in Kenya and develop a joint plan of action for advocacy implementation. The policies include front-of-pack food labeling, fiscal policies, marketing regulations, and public procurement policies. The front-of-pack labeling, through symbols, encourages the public to consume healthier processed food options, while the fiscal policies focus on the taxation of unhealthy foods with high sugar content. Marketing regulations entail comprehensive actions by governments to reduce the impact of promoting unhealthy foods, particularly to children, while public procurement policies are aimed at setting and enforcing nutrition standards for meals supplied to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons.

At the core of the discussions during the workshop was the need for the advocacy partners to map and identify key actors in the NCD and nutrition sector and work collaboratively in the execution of the advocacy activities. Emphasis was placed on leveraging existing government structures and frameworks for advocacy work on addressing the burden of NCDs in Kenya. APHRC researchers shared existing evidence on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, digital marketing for children in Kenya, findings on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages taxation in Kenya, and the cost of treating NCDs (Diabetes) in Kenya as evidence for policy action. The presentations were part of the evidence the advocacy partners are expected to use for policy engagement with decision-makers.

APHRC and the CSOs agreed to pursue the following:  identify opportunities for policy engagement at the national level and share knowledge translation tools such as policy briefs and research documents on the four policy bundles.

About the project

APHRC is implementing the Food Environment Policy (FEP) – Action project in Kenya in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to build evidence and mobilize multi-stakeholder actions towards the development of a double-duty bundle of four food environment policies that prevent the consumption of unhealthy diets and promote the consumption of nutrient-rich and energy-dense healthy foods. The FEP project builds on the momentum set by global initiatives such as the Global RECAP program and local initiative in the Kenya Non-Communicable Diseases Strategy to reduce the double burden of malnutrition by shaping the food environment. This project also involves an advocacy component to support the policy development and implementation work and research activities aimed at informing the policy development process. The broad-based collaboration is expected to make the project scalable and sustainable in Kenya. This is a three-year project, from January 2022 to December 2024, and is funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC-Canada) and the Rockefeller Foundation.