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KENFIN EDURA, a HEI ICI project feeding further projects

Projects Higher education HEI ICI / HEP Internationalisation
A joint effort of Kenyan and Finnish researchers led to a successful project that has also contributed towards further projects. Tools and activities such as Food Atlas and digital data collection method developed in KENFIN-EDURA are now in use in other international projects supporting continuity of the developed activities.
KENFIN-EDURA

KENFIN-EDURA (Building Higher Education and Research Capacity to Address the Physical Activity and Nutrition Transition in Kenya: the Kenya-Finland Education and Research Alliance) was a HEI ICI project  with the main aim to address various emerging challenges related to an increase in non-communicable diseases in Kenya. This description written by the project coordinators, illustrates how the project has succeeded in providing capacity and tools which are now used in other international research projects.

Food Atlas – a method to assess portion sizes

An important principle of KENFIN EDURA was “learning by doing”. Accordingly, we wanted to increase research capacity, which is of uttermost importance in higher education institutes, particularly in universities. As a part of KENFIN EDURA, we initiated a research project with a main aim to study the current situation of dietary and physical activity habits in an urban setting, with special focus on socio-economic differences. We chose two Nairobian sub-counties, Embakasi (low-income) and Langata (middle-income). From both areas, we aimed at studying 70 guardian-adolescent pairs.

Study of food selection and nutrient intakes are based on retrospective (assessing past dietary choices) nutrition interviews. During these interviews, it is important to assist the respondents in estimation of portion sizes. For this, we created the first Food Atlas in Kenya, with initial focus on dietary intakes in adolescents. The Food Atlas illustrates 178 traditional and commonly used Kenyan foods and dishes in different portion sizes. The process was joint between University of Helsinki and Kenyatta University, and so far, it has led to one Master’s thesis at UH. The Atlas has already created great interest also in the Ministry of Health in Kenya.

We have been able to develop the Food Atlas further by validating it and also expanding its use to adult women, as a part of an EU Horizon 2020 project called InnoFoodAfrica (www.innofoodafrica.eu). In August 2021, we invited 206 women, between age 13 and 45, to eat a lunch with carefully measured portion size. Based on the results we know that the Atlas is suitable for dietary assessment also among adult women, we can now interpret the food intake results better. This enabled us to eventually use the Atlas in a larger food consumption survey for estimating dietary intakes among 400 mothers in Nairobi and Chuka, Kenya. We are also planning a new research proposal, together with researchers from four Sub-Saharan African countries in which the Atlas would be scaled-up to national level and also outside Kenya. So, the process that started in KENFIN EDURA is now growing bigger and bigger.  

A digital method to collect dietary intake data in low- and low-middle income countries

There is a huge information gap in dietary intake data in Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, an important challenge would be to collect dietary intake data in a way that is accurate, but at the same time simple enough for low- and lower-middle income settings. In KENFIN EDURA, we started to use the Open Data Kit (ODK) platform to record data from 24h dietary interviews. ODK is a freely available application to collect data using powerful offline forms in resource-poor settings. When carrying out the interview, the research assistants could use their own mobile phone to enter the data and to save it in the cloud. The collected data was then downloaded for further processing.

However, the problem was that the step from the initial interview to nutrient intake calculations was large. Even though the data was in digital format, after data collection there was still a lot of work needed to process the raw data. In InnoFoodAfrica, we created a more sophisticated version of the 24h dietary recall form used in ODK. Now the research assistants still save the interview data in the cloud, but these data can immediately be connected to food composition database and to actual portion sizes of foods. It is indeed inspiring to see, how a method initially developed in KENFIN EDURA, is now developing to become even better. This is a good example of development with sustainability.

Training of research assistants – sustainable effects

In collecting data from the two KENFIN EDURA areas, we used students from KU as research assistants. The teams (one team = three students) were carefully trained during a 1-week training, in addition to a few pilot training days in the field. The main areas of training were how to perform the food interview, assisted by the Food Atlas, how to use the digital data collection tool and how to take the main anthropometric assessments (height, weight, circumferences).

As a spin-off resulted from these trainings, there have been at least two emerging start-ups in which of the more recent ones our research assistants are establishing an NGO to give services in future international nutrition projects in Kenya and also to give research support to local communities, for instance, in the form of training.

Thus, as a long-term result of KENFIN EDURA, we have now many talented and experienced young researchers who have received more job opportunities because of their skills obtained within the project, and who can do high-quality data collections and train more researchers.

Authors: Professor Mikael Fogelholm and Dr., docent Noora Kanerva, University of Helsinki, Department of Food and Nutrition, coordinators of the KENFIN-EDURA project