Adolescent nutrition interventions integrated into school-based programs in the SNNP and Somali regions of Ethiopia led to significant improvements in dietary practices of girls, according to implementation research results presented during a recent Alive & Thrive global webinar.
The webinar covered the main aspects of the adolescent nutrition program, including details about how it was conceived, implemented and scaled up, as well as the results of research conducted on the feasibility of integrating adolescent nutrition interventions into existing school programs. Alive & Thrive Director Sandra Remancus moderated the event.
From the beginning of the program design, Alive & Thrive partnered closely with the Government of Ethiopia, which is now leading efforts to implement and scale the program to additional regions.
The webinar opened with remarks by Hiwot Darsene, Lead Executive Officer for the National Nutrition Coordination Office, Ministry of Health of Ethiopia.
“Over the last 20 years, Ethiopia has made significant progress in reducing undernutrition among children and mothers,” said Darsene, in opening remarks. “I hope that today's FHI360/Alive & Thrive project dissemination of research on improving adolescent girls' dietary practices in Ethiopia serves as an example of how government and partner collaboration can result in the desired outcomes of improving community adolescent and maternal nutrition statuses and strengthening public health and nutrition service delivery systems in the health sector.”
The importance of adolescent nutrition has gained attention in recent years, resulting in a landmark Lancet series on the subject in 2021. Dr. Purnima Menon, author in the Lancet series and Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), highlighted the importance of initiatives like Alive & Thrive’s program in Ethiopia to build on the interventions identified in the Lancet series and help fill existing data gaps.
“At a time when a rapid nutrition transition is shifting diets for most young people globally, improving adolescent nutrition provides an opportunity to shape the health and wellbeing of this generation and the next,” Menon said.
Dr. Tina Sanghvi, Senior MIYCN Technical Advisor of Alive & Thrive and Tamirat Walissa, Nutrition Associate Directorl of Alive & Thrive’s Ethiopia program discussed intervention details, drawing attention to the extensive formative research that proceeded implementation.
“The goal was to identify and address knowledge gaps in adolescent nutrition,” Sanghvi said. ”This wasn’t about trying to prove that adolescent nutrition was important, but rather, how do you reach them, what is the most sustainable and effective way to bring about change?”
The program comprised four key interventions delivered largely at primary schools and targeting girls aged 10 to 14 years. The school-based interventions were reinforced by contacts with influencers of girls’ behavior, including school administrators and teachers, health extension workers, the girls’ parents and community leaders.
While Alive & Thrive supported the government to implement the program, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) conducted the research. Dr. Sunny Kim of IFPRI presented the results , which demonstrated the feasibility of implementing nutrition education interventions through school-based platforms and that reinforcing messages about eating a healthy, diverse foods and eating more often resulted in significant changes related to dietary diversity and meal frequency. There was no change in unhealthy food consumption.
Following the success demonstrated by the implementation research, Alive & Thrive has worked closely with the Government of Ethiopia to scale the program. The Government of Ethiopia has since taken over scaling efforts and, it has led the scale up to 280 additional schools in the five targeted regions. This process has also shown the cost savings that can result from effective scaling practices. Dr. Abdulaziz Ali, Country Director of the Alive & Thrive program in Ethiopia, said that since expansion of the interventions, costs have decreased from about US$1,122 per school to about US$404 today. These cost savings have major implications for intervention sustainability and long-term success.
Attendees of the webinar posed a variety of questions, which panelists addressed, time permitting.
“We appreciated the robust participation of the audience, who asked excellent questions,” Remancus said. “This program improved nutrition practices among adolescent girls. That’s very important and we were thrilled to share it with a global audience.”