Bridging the Gap: Engaging with Adolescents

This is a FANTASTIC study – well worth downloading and reading. A fuller review will come in July during our Nutrition Month.

Bridging the Gap: Engaging Adolescents for Nutrition, Health and Sustainable Development May 2018. WFP and Anthrologica

Extract from the Forward

When we first discussed the idea for this research with Anthrologica and Unilever four years ago, we couldn’t have anticipated the range of insights it would give us. While we went in with a focus of how to reach adolescents, we came out with our eyes opened to the unique influence they could have in the household.

Many adolescents play an active role in providing food for the family – cooking, buying and earning money to buy food. They are more tech-savvy than their parents (what adolescent isn’t?), and they are exposed to different environments outside the household whose stimuli they absorb and bring back home. Children are told what to eat; adolescents are more likely to decide what to eat, based on the world around them. And if they make the right choices, they can influence the entire family.

Lauren Landis, World Food Programme

Study on Adolescent Nutrition Key Messages from the Study 

  • Adolescence is a time of significant growth and development. Addressing the nutritional needs of adolescents, particularly adolescent girls, is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ending malnutrition by 2030.
  • Adolescents play a key role in their family’s health and nutrition. They often have significant influence over a household’s diet, buying and preparing food, cultivating the family land, and contributing financial resources.
  • The unique role of adolescents means they can be effective agents of change to improve the health and nutrition of their families, peers and communities.
  • Governments and development organisations should expand their perception of adolescents as a target for health, nutrition and development initiatives. They should recognise and harness the energy or adolescents and the important place they occupy in society in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Adolescents’ diets are driven by immediate needs. Food choices are influenced by the need for energy and to satisfy hunger, and by limited resources and convenience. The long-term consequences of diet are rarely a factor.
  • Although many adolescents are attracted to food they consider to be novel, there are avenues to promote both traditional and fashionable foods that are healthy and nutritious and to align these foods with adolescent aspirations.
  • Overcoming restrictive social norms is critical to improving nutritional status and well-being. This includes addressing sexual and reproductive health issues like early marriage and teenage pregnancy, and access to education.
  • Girls and young women have heavy workloads that contribute to their high-energy expenditure and often limit the time they have available for other activities including school attendance, homework, socialising and recreation.
  • In many contexts, ingrained gender norms mean that girls are not prioritised at the table, eat last or receive a smaller allocation of food. Yet gendered social norms affect boys as well as girls, and programmes should ensure that all adolescents receive appropriate provision.
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ delivery channel. Interventions should respond to the complex realities of an adolescent’s life and, rather than being an additional burden, should be mindful of the conflicting responsibilities adolescents may have and be sensitive to their preferences and priorities. Adolescents should be engaged through multiple avenues or platforms that are mutually supportive and also engage key influencers.
  • The nutrition, food and agricultural sectors should tailor interventions to better reach adolescents. Actors already engaging adolescents in other sectors should include nutrition in their activities.
  • Adolescents should be actively engaged in the design, implementation and monitoring of interventions.
  • ‘Adolescence’ is a dynamic concept and factors including age, life stages and responsibilities influence whether a person identifies themselves as an adolescent or not. This results in some adolescents excluding themselves from relevant programmes. Effective programming should engage groups as defined and understood at the community level.