A few weeks ago I ran across a website called Idealist.org, whose mission “is to close the gap between intention and action by connecting people, organizations, ideas, and resources.” My interest piqued, I typed “nutrition” into the search bar and was met with a request for a Nutrition Program Planner by an organization in Uganda. The organization works with young women who were forced into sex trade as girls, and therefore never received formal education. So they hire the women to make shirts at a fair wage, pay for vocational education in a field of the woman’s choice, pay for medical insurance, and provide programs to help ensure their health and empowerment. And that’s where the nutrition comes in.
I reached out to them, offering myself as a remote volunteer to help develop a nutrition program. Though it’d been months since they’d first posted the position, they responded that it was still open and would love for me to create the program. I love the health promotion side of nutrition, but I’d never worked with a foreign population, so I was excited for a challenge like this.
And a challenge it was! I never anticipated how difficult it would be to incorporate the most important aspects of nutrition into a self-standing program, let alone for a population whose diet is wildly different from what we’re used to here in America. So I took to google to research what a typical Ugandan diet looks like. What I found can be summarized by one word: Starches. Ugandans love their starches: cassava, maize, millet, potatoes. And understandably so; these foods are often energy dense and easy to grow.
But as it turns out, energy density is not what Ugandan women need. In Uganda, a larger weight is considered more attractive in females. So while only 5% of men are overweight or obese, the prevalence is 20% in women. Overweight, of course, does not necessarily mean well-nourished. A review of their food records alluded to the same nutrient deficiencies that plague much of East Africa: iron, vitamin B12, iodine, calcium, and vitamin D, to name a few. But of course, they can’t simply pop a Centrum Complete and call it a day as many people here have the luxury of doing. Where do you get Vitamin B12 if you eat meat and dairy 0-1 times/week? How do you motivate a girl to sit in the sun for Vitamin D if she is set on not becoming any darker?
So in trying to balance all of this—the energy reduction, vitamin/mineral increase, a tight budget, and a relatively low readiness to change—I came up with this nutrition booklet. Take a look!
- Baalwa J, Byarugaba BB, Kabagambe EK, Kabagambe KE, Otim AM. Prevalence of overweight and obesity in young adults in Uganda. African health sciences. 2010;10:367-373.