South African research study proves education on healthy eating can combat diabetes in poor communities

Good nutrition is our first defence against disease and our source of energy to live and be active. Picture: Jimmy Dean /Unsplash

Good nutrition is our first defence against disease and our source of energy to live and be active. Picture: Jimmy Dean /Unsplash

Published Apr 18, 2024


In a time when the world grapples with escalating health challenges, the spotlight turns once more to the foundations of well-being—nutrition and its sweeping impact on low-income communities.

Nutrition, a seemingly simple element of our daily lives, holds the power to transform the three pillars of health: physical health, mental health and social well-being.

Its importance in these areas, especially among those in economically disadvantaged situations, is both profound and indispensable.

First and foremost, the role of nutrition in maintaining and enhancing physical health cannot be overstressed.

In communities where resources are scarce, malnutrition or even the wrong kind of nutrition can lead to a host of health problems like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Good nutrition is our first defence against disease and our source of energy to live and be active.

Nutritional education can arm these communities with the knowledge to make better food choices that are not only affordable but also nutrient-rich, paving the way for a healthier, disease-free life.

Nearly one out of every nine people in South Africa is living with diabetes, says the International Diabetes Federation. Eating too much sugar and carbs is a big reason why this disease is so common, especially in poor areas where it's easier and cheaper to buy unhealthy processed food.

Nutritional education can arm low income communities with the knowledge to make better food choices. Picture: Jimmy Dean/Unsplash

The Noakes Foundation, a group that wants to change what people think about food and long-term health issues, conducted a study in Dunoon.

Dunoon, in Cape Town, is a crowded area in the Western Cape that doesn't have a lot of resources. The study shows that teaching people in places like this about healthy eating can help fight the serious problem of diabetes.

“People in poor areas often think diabetes is something you can't beat because they don't know how to deal with it. We looked into the best ways to teach, connect with, and help people in these places about eating right.

“We found that diets with less carbs and more fat can really help control diabetes,” said Jayne Bullen, the top manager at The Noakes Foundation.

In a team effort with Eat Better South Africa (EBSA), a charity working to help local healthcare by setting up ways for individuals and families to get better food, a new study has looked into how teaching people about food can change the health and habits of people with type 2 diabetes.

The goal was to get people to eat less sugar and white flour and to choose healthier food that's easy to find.

The people in the study shared their stories in group talks and one-on-one chats. They talked about what it's like to live with diabetes in areas that don't have a lot of resources.

A lot of them feel alone because they don't want to cause trouble for their families.

It's hard for them to eat differently from everyone else at home. Sometimes, their friends and family don't support the changes they're trying to make to handle their diabetes better.

“Being part of a support group in the program helped them feel like they belonged and made it easier to eat healthier," said Bullen, explaining the study's findings.

In a recent study, individuals diagnosed with diabetes revealed that they received little guidance from medical professionals regarding the use of diet to manage their condition.

“Many of the participants were unaware that they could control their diabetes through a healthy lifestyle after being diagnosed,” Bullen explained.

During the program, the health of the participants was closely monitored. This included checking their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and body measurements at the start.

Initially, these tests showed that participants had high blood sugar levels. However, after completing the program, significant improvements were noted, particularly among women.

They lost weight, their waist size decreased, and their blood pressure dropped. The study also highlighted that the program successfully changed the eating habits of the participants. They started eating more meat and fewer processed carbs and sugars.

“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 added.