Developing and assessing the appropriateness of the preliminary food-based dietary guidelines for South Africans.
Aim. The aim of this study was to document and provide a critical analysis of the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) development process, and to assess the appropriateness of the proposed South African FBDGs. To achieve this aim, specific study objectives included the following : (1) To document and critically analyse the South African FBDGs process in relation to the 10-step development process recommended by the FAO/WHO. (2) To assess the appropriateness of the proposed South African FBDGs in terms of consumer comprehension (perceptions, general understanding and specific interpretations), and application of the guidelines (ability to apply the guidelines when planning a typical day' s meals for their families). (3) To assess the compatibility of the proposed South Africa FBDGs in terms of food categorisation as perceived by consumers, and as depicted in the food guides that are commonly used. Methodology. An extensive literature review on the development of international dietary guidelines, the emergence of FBDGs and the FAO/WHO FBDGs process, together with documentation of the South African FBDGs process, was used to critically analyse the process used for developing the proposed South African FBDGs. Focus group discussions (n=15) and structured individual interviews (n=230) were held in ten magisterial districts within KwaZulu Natal (KZN), randomly selected according to settlement strata (rural, urban informal, urban formal) and ethnicity (Black, Indian, White) to reflect the KZN population. Participants were women with no formal nutrition training, who made the food purchasing and preparation decisions in the household. A total of 103 women participated in the focus group discussions and 230 women in the structured individual interviews. Results. The process followed by the SA FBDG Work Group has ensured that the proposed South African FBDGs are country-specific in that each FBDG is evidence-based and relates to specific nutrition-related public health concerns of South Africans. Except for the "Eat healthier snacks" FBDG, participants understood and interpreted the FBDGs as intended by health professionals, and could construct a day's meals to reflect the FBDGs. Only two other FBDGs were identified as confusing in terms of terminology used, namely, "legumes" and "foods from animals". By rewording these guidelines the FBDGs would be highly compatible in terms of personal food categorisation. Use of food guides was low, mainly due to a lack of knowledge about how to use them. In terms of food categorisation as depicted by the reportedly most commonly used food guides (3- and 5- Food Group Guides), these food guides are incompatible with the proposed FBDGs. Conclusions. Within the South African context, the FAO/WHO FBDGs development process was feasible and practical to implement. However, to ensure sustainability of the South African FBDGs process, it is strongly recommended that the Department of Health appoint a representative scientific committee specifically for the purpose of reviewing and reformulating the South African FBDGs. Results indicate that a single set of FBDGs can be appropriate for all South Africans provided that certain guidelines are reworded as suggested; and that all the guidelines are accompanied by explanatory information citing commonly consumed foods/drinks as well as practical examples of how to apply the guidelines in light of perceived barriers. In terms of the appropriateness of food guides commonly used in South Africa, there is a need to either move away from the concept of food groups and/or to develop a new South African food guide that is compatible with the proposed FBDGs.