What is the difference between food group diversity indicators, such as the Minimum Dietary Diversity for Women of Reproductive Age, and dietary guidelines or messages?

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The Minimum Dietary Diversity for Women of Reproductive Age (MDD-W) indicator should not been viewed as a message or used as guidance for developing messages. This is a common mistake.

Indicators, dietary guidelines and behaviour change messages are developed through very different processes. In particular, because it was developed for global use, MDD-W may or may not align perfectly with best messages for improving diets in any given content.

Development of national dietary guidelines is a scientific and political process, incorporating a range of evidence and stakeholder perspectives. The types of evidence used to inform guidelines include assessments of food and nutrient intakes, food supplies, prevalence and public health importance of diet-related health and nutrition outcomes, and cultural preferences, among others.

Similar to dietary guidelines, programmatic efforts involving social and behaviour change communication are grounded in deep knowledge of context and in examinations of how best to motivate behaviour change given the cultural context and the potential motivators for and constraints to change.

Food group diversity indicators developed for global use, such as the MDD-W, of necessity lack the cultural and contextual specificity described above for dietary guidelines or other communications efforts. Also, MDD-W provides for a minimum standard – diversification – but is “silent” on quantities consumed and around other dimensions of diet quality (balance, moderation). Conveying messages about diversity alone is necessary but not sufficient to improve diets.

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