Tackling nutrition education in under-resourced communities

Eat Better South Africa - The Noakes foundation team and Dunoo Residents who participated in the study
Eat Better South Africa - The Noakes foundation team and Dunoo Residents who participated in the study

One in nine South Africans are affected by diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. Diets high in sugar and carbohydrates are a key cause of diabetes, especially in low-income communities where processed foods are more accessible and affordable. Non-profit organisation, The Noakes Foundation, has conducted a study in Dunoon, an informal settlement in the Western Cape, to highlight how nutrition education initiatives in under-resourced areas can address the health challenges and social stigma associated with diabetes.


“Diabetes is often viewed as a death sentence in low-income communities because there is a lack of understanding about how to manage it. Our research explored the best ways to inform, engage and support people in these communities when it comes to healthy nutrition, and the benefits of a low-carb, high-fat diet in managing diabetes,” says Jayne Bullen, Chief Operating Officer at The Noakes Foundation, which aims to challenge mainstream scientific thinking around the link between nutrition and chronic diseases.


In partnership with Eat Better South Africa (EBSA), a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting local public healthcare systems by establishing individual and family-focused food security networks, the study assessed the impact of EBSA’s nutrition education programme by examining behaviour and metabolic health changes in type 2 diabetes patients. The programme aimed to reduce consumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates, while promoting accessible, nutrient-dense alternatives.


As part of the study, participants shared details about their lived experiences through focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews – offering insights into how diabetes patients in under-resourced communities need to be supported. “Participants often felt a sense of isolation, because they don’t want to be a burden to loved ones. They found it difficult to maintain a different diet than the rest of their household. Often, people around them were not supportive of their lifestyle changes and holistic approach to their diabetes diagnosis. The support group aspect of the programme provided that sense of community and made their journeys to better nutrition easier,” explains Bullen.


Participants highlighted a lack of support from healthcare professionals about dietary interventions as a treatment for diabetes. “When participants initially received their diagnosis, most of them weren’t aware that diabetes is a disease they could manage with a healthy lifestyle,” says Bullen.


The participants’ blood markers, blood pressure and body measurements were recorded throughout the programme. Baseline test results indicated high levels of blood glucose (sugar) levels. Following the programme, significant reductions in weight, waist circumference, and blood pressure were recorded for women. The study also found that the programme had a positive effect on participants’ dietary habits, resulting in them consuming more animal proteins and less refined carbohydrates and sweets.


“Based on the outcomes, it is clear that when people are empowered with knowledge and support, they are more likely to actively manage their diabetes through dietary changes. We are proud to be conducting research that shows the positive impact of holistic diabetes management to address the medical, social and emotional needs of people in under-resourced communities,” she adds.


To find out more about how the Noakes Foundation is challenging the accepted science and supporting research that empowers individuals to make the best dietary choices available to them, visit https://thenoakesfoundation.org/