We're halfway through the Sweet Swap challenge and our sweet-toothed supporters continue to fight their cravings in support of some of Africa's poorest people. Here, Eleanor Simmons who works in Send a Cow's Research and Impact Team, takes a closer look at the surprising issues surrounding the sweet stuff.

Obesity is on the rise. So, unsurprisingly, is diabetes. You knew that already – but did you realise they’re both rising in the developing world too? There are now more overweight people than underweight in the world – although hunger does remain a huge problem.

Perhaps the main culprit is refined sugar.

But why do we turn to sugary foods?

Are we all just greedy? More likely, we eat sweet things when we need a boost of one type or another: comfort, energy, mood. Even if we try to resist, our socialising may revolve around sweet treats: cake, perhaps, or beer. Sugar is a quick fix, and possibly even an addictive one.

Or are we all just too lazy to walk off the effects of a sugary diet, or too tired to cook something healthier? Sugar is easy – and it’s everywhere. Often it’s hidden in apparently healthy foods: yoghurts and breakfast cereals, for example.

Facing the issue in Africa

The scenario might be somewhat different in rural sub-Saharan Africa, but many of the underlying principles are the same. Incomes are rising – a good thing, but one that can lead to eating too much, and to eating more luxurious foods.

Packaged food is becoming more easily available – and what harassed parent anywhere in the world hasn’t resorted on occasion to the placating power of a bag of sweets for their child?

Lack of time is a factor too. There are even concerns that when mothers become involved in international development programmes, they have less time to prepare nourishing food for their families.

So, what's the answer?

As with most things, there are no quick fixes. Nutrition awareness training – which Send a Cow includes in all our programmes – goes a long way, particularly with once-poor families who are adapting to the novelty of having choices about what they eat. The ability to grow good nourishing crops and vegetables, and produce protein such as meat and eggs, also gives families healthy options.

But perhaps another piece of the puzzle is feeling good about yourself. If you feel in control of your future, you’ll hopefully put your nutritional knowledge to good use, and take control of your body and your health.

Those personal and social aspects are key to our programmes. Recent research from Rwanda showed that the percentage of people with good self-esteem rose from 44% before our projects to 94% within just six months. And only 40% had a balanced diet before working with us; after three years, it was 90%, and the food was higher quality. They were eating more sugar (or its healthier equivalent, honey) – but still in moderation.

We hope that all of you taking part in Sweet Swap for Send a Cow feel good about yourselves. You’re doing a tremendous thing, building hope and health in Africa. And for those of you who haven't signed up, there's still time! Visit sendacow.org/sweetswap