Food Systems and Nutrition Evidence Gap Map
To address the challenge of malnutrition and food insecurity, decision-makers need to understand what evidence exists on various interventions. 3ie’s first living evidence gap map (EGM) includes the largest collection of high-quality research on food systems interventions in low- and middle-income countries. We regularly add studies to ensure the most up-to-date evidence is available to our users. Developed with support from Innovative Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions this EGM is commissioned by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
Groundbreaking studies now part of Food Systems and Nutrition EGM
Our newest and third update shows researchers breaking new ground. We added 47 studies to the map, taking the total to 2,219. One new study evaluated the impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes on BMI in the Maldives. We also identified the fourth-ever study to consider the effects of interventions within the food system on economic, social, and political stability. In this blog, we explain how innovative approaches are now increasingly used to measure interventions that cannot be randomized, such as national policies, market support, and agricultural savings and credit.
A shift towards evaluating consumer behaviour
We screened over 86,000 reports from searches between July 2021 and January 2022 and added an additional 82 articles to our map. Much of the new research found for our second update focuses on interventions related to consumer behaviour. While it was the least studied intervention domain in the original EGM, it is now evaluated as often as the food supply chain and more than food environment interventions. This illustrates the speed with which EGMs in rapidly-changing fields can become outdated and the need for continuous updates.
Food systems are crucial to achieving most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as multiple other goals and commitments, such as those on climate change. What we need is science-driven food transformation and research will continue to play a vital role in this. By providing an overview of the literature relating food systems interventions to food security and nutrition outcomes, 3ie aims to address the challenges of malnutrition and food insecurity in low- and middle-income countries. Our Food Systems and Nutrition Evidence Gap Map (EGM) shows where evidence is available and where new research is needed to fill evidence gaps regarding the impacts of food systems interventions.
Making sense of a vast and growing literature
As of August 2022, our EGM includes over 2,000 studies and presents a rich body of evidence, including the latest research, in the fast-growing field of food systems impact evaluations. It reports on evidence from all key areas and intervention types and identifies potential primary and synthesis evidence gaps. It is also a living EGM, which means new studies are added at regular intervals. Apart from adding studies, we also publish summaries of how the literature has changed, and provide insight if previous evidence gaps have been addressed. We are also leveraging it to produce a series of evidence synthesis products. We will be keeping the living EGM updated through March 2023.
Along with Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions (IMMANA), this EGM and the updates have been commissioned by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit’s (GIZ) “Knowledge for Nutrition” program.
When the EGM was launched in 2021, a total of 2,035 studies were identified for inclusion—178 systematic reviews and 1,838 impact evaluations. There has been a rapid increase in the number of studies published since and the map has now been updated in three instances—reinforcing the need for a ‘living EGM’.
Studies added to the EGM
August 2022 update
In our latest update, we added 47 new studies to the map. There continues to be a focus on the food supply chain (21 new studies), specifically the production system (20 new studies). Many of the studies within the food supply chain are related to education (20 new studies). There seems to be less of a focus on interventions that were previously highly studied, such as fortification (2 new studies, 293 previously included), supplementation (3 new studies, 381 previously included), and the use of peer support and councillors (3 new studies, 144 previously included). However, the focus on the direct provision of food remains (8 new studies, 208 previously included). We found relatively large increases in the categories of market support (4 new studies representing a 50 per cent increase) and agricultural credit and savings (3 new studies representing a 16 per cent increase), which had been previously understudied. We included the first ever study to consider the impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage taxes on BMI.
In the original EGM (covering January 2000 – September 2020), evaluations disproportionally considered supplement provision (20%); fortification (16%); direct food provision (11%); and peer support and counselling targeting consumer behaviour (7%). No or few evaluations assessed advertising regulations, food waste education programs, food packaging, governmental price manipulations, and interventions supporting women’s decision-making or measured women’s empowerment outcomes.
Benefits of a living EGM
The process of continuously updating this map has allowed for the identification of ground-breaking evaluations in the field. We have seen work in areas with knowledge gaps, such as women’s empowerment; measures of diet insufficiency; national level policies; and economic, social, and political stability. This responds directly to a recent call from the European Commission for independent and up-to-date reports on the scientific evidence about food systems transformation to fill knowledge gaps in the field.
Leveraging the EGM
Extending the use of the living EGM
To fill some of the key gaps identified through the mapping process, 3ie produced two additional synthesis products: a rapid evidence assessment on the impact evaluations of women’s empowerment interventions included in the map and a systematic review on the use of fiscal policies to support a healthy diet. These synthesis products were produced in less than half the time of traditional systematic reviews because we were able to leverage the EGM.
Evidence on women’s empowerment within the food systems
Findings: There were ten impact evaluations of interventions to support women’s empowerment within the Food Systems and Nutrition Evidence Gap Map. Overall, these interventions generally had positive impacts on food security and food affordability and availability. Evidence from qualitative work suggests that women’s empowerment interventions best influenced nutritional outcomes when adopting gender-transformative approaches and addressing gender and social norms.
Implications: Policy-makers should consider improving women’s social capital so they can better control and decide how to feed their families. Qualitative evidence suggests that multi-component interventions seem to be more sustainable than single-focus interventions, especially when they combine a livelihoods component (asset transfer or financial services) with behavioural change communication. Researchers need to address issues with inconsistent data and reporting, particularly relating to seasonal changes, social norms and time taken between rounds of data collection in order to implement high-quality evaluations. Future studies could further contribute to the evidence base of gender-transformative approaches by carefully considering contextual norms and avoiding stereotyping women into pre-decided roles which may perpetuate social norms.
Read the Brief
Evidence on taxes and subsidies to support a healthy diet
Findings: We identified 49 impact evaluations and two systematic reviews through an additional systematic search that extended beyond the Food Systems and Nutrition Evidence Gap Map. Unfortunately, these represented only 24 unique intervention-outcome-population combinations due to the repeated evaluation of the same taxes. We found that taxes on unhealthy foods may decrease the purchases of unhealthy foods, but this effect was driven by a single, high risk of bias study. Impacts on diet, health, and well-being were rarely considered, so conclusions could not be reached. However, we did find evidence that awareness of the health-based justifications for the taxes and the health consequences of consuming such foods may facilitate the impacts of these interventions.
Implications: Tax and subsidy policies aimed at improving diets should incorporate information campaigns on health benefits and health risks associated with certain food and beverage consumption. For tax policies, exposure to health information may amplify the signalling effects of taxes and reduce avoidance behaviours, such as cross-border shopping. Future evaluations of fiscal policies should diversify data sources to better understand the impact on diet and health outcomes. Future research should also use evaluation design strategies that account for confounding and independence from other programs or events that may occur during the implementation period.
Read the Brief
Watch our latest webinar on ‘Filling knowledge gaps to transform the food system’ which brought together experts from GIZ, EAT Forum, IFPRI, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Centre for Global Child Health. The panel focused on the experience in navigating the evidence base within the field, the types of evidence needed, and how the research community can better respond to the evidence needs of policymakers and implementers.