How women in Malawi were persuaded to eat more eggs

Boosting egg production in Malawi

If certain foods are so obviously good for you, why aren’t you eating them? This is the kind of question that social marketing tries to answer. By the way, I’m not an expert, just a former journalist who finds the topic important and fascinating.

Putting up posters or reciting slogans saying “Eat more eggs” might seem a simple answer, but it often doesn’t work. So the first step in this campaign in Malawi was to find out why it wouldn’t be enough.

The social marketers in this case asked a group of women what they usually ate. They found that they did eat eggs but not often. The women knew that eggs were good for them, but knew only a few ways of cooking and eating them. Perhaps also eggs were expensive.

The social marketers decided that the way to persuade women was through their children. They soon realised that the women’s idea of a healthy child was different from that of health workers, for example the mothers tended to judge their children’s health by their growth. The social marketers decided to associate health with happiness and came up with slogans such as “More eggs, more smiles”.

As well as talking to women’s groups, the social marketers needed to tackle one of the obstacles to egg-eating: the supply. So they worked with poultry farmers to persuade them that there was a big market for their eggs and that it would be worth their while to expand production and reap economies of scale, making the eggs cheaper and their incomes bigger.

There were two further types of persuasion to the women. The social marketers produced a poster of a doctor saying that eggs encouraged growth and even showed a large growth meter with children measuring themselves up against it. And they produced menus and ideas for different ways of cooking and eating eggs.

The social marketers assessed the effects of their campaign and found – happily, because it doesn’t always work – that the numbers of eggs bought and eaten went up and that attitudes to eggs had changed.

What I learned from this case in Malawi was that in order to persuade people to change their habits, you need to understand why they do what they do and make it easy for them to change. And everyone must gain – in this case the women, their children, the farmers and the egg-sellers.

(credit Puja Peyden Tshering)

Next I heard about a tough challenge to try to reduce obesity rates in South-East England.