Leveraging synthetic intelligence to achieve fathers and help baby diet in India throughout COVID-19

Photo: Vishnu Nishad / Unsplash

COVID-19 isn’t the only pandemic in India. Eight-year-old Rakesh died of starvation during the national lockdown in March 2020. Sevak Ram’s one-year-old son died of acute malnutrition in June. These are not isolated cases. India is waging a dual battle against malnutrition and COVID-19. The lockdown has disrupted access to rations and other essential services, closed schools (cut off children’s lunches) and lost jobs, putting millions of families in India at even greater risk of extreme poverty and malnutrition.

India already had a third of the world’s malnutrition burden before the pandemic. In rural areas, there is a common shortening, wasting and reduced immunity due to nutrient deficiencies. While India has made advances in maternal and child nutrition in recent years, disparities persist and the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the crisis. The COVID-19 lockdown and associated economic shocks put formerly food-safe households at increased risk, which will have a direct impact on children’s food intake.

At the same time, the lockdowns have increased the amount of time fathers spend at home and opened up opportunities to be more involved in child nutrition and development. Previous diagnostic work in households with young children had found high levels of smartphone penetration and social media use in young fathers. Could this information, along with fathers’ extended time with their children, be used for quick action to prevent children’s diets from falling behind?

The World Bank’s eMBeD team and Quilt.AI wanted to understand whether social media could be used to motivate fathers and actively feed their children. We did this in three steps:

First, we wanted to examine the online child nutrition discourse with a focus on fathers. What do fathers look for, care and talk about Quilt.AI’s cultural AI was used to track the digital footprint of parents and carers in two of India’s poorest and most malnourished states: Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Data on 47 million searches and 1,500 unique keywords from 2019-20, blog posts on nutrition, social media uploads, and content consumed by caregivers were analyzed by a research team. We looked at fathers and mothers (based on their online profiles and identification) even though we looked specifically for fathers. We found:

  • The pandemic focused on public health and nutrition programs. We found greater awareness of government programs and nutrition agencies on social media and search behavior. For example, between March and May 2020, search interest in government regulations like Poshan Abhiyaan and Anganwadis increased 93% across India, while in Bihar it increased 426% (about 4.5 times the national average).
  • Along with increasing awareness, we found underlying feelings that the government and nutrition authorities were not doing enough to eradicate malnutrition. We have come across the belief that resources are not properly and fairly distributed, complaints about transparency and others. In the context of COVID-19, dissatisfaction expressed as a verdict of insufficient action by officials to contain the pandemic-induced food crisis has been tied to expressions of loss of confidence in the authorities.
  • Public programs aside, we found that despite numerous online resources on child nutrition, parent and caregiver engagement with such content was low, especially in rural areas. Additionally, online resources are aimed primarily at mothers and ignore fathers. The feeding of children still seems to be a matter entrusted to the women of the house. Fathers online turned to other types of content like news and entertainment.
  • Concerns about affordability and accessibility grew during the COVID months. Affordability concerns increased by 56% in Bihar and 46% in Uttar Pradesh, and availability concerns increased by 52% in Bihar and 42% in Uttar Pradesh. Popular search terms include “baby formula too expensive”, “cheap baby formula” and “free baby milk powder”.

Development of search queries for terms related to the nutrition of children in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.Development of search queries for terms related to the nutrition of children in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

  • The disruption of essential services and government programs has particularly impacted parent awareness efforts in rural areas. Food misconceptions continue to thrive and they are linked to fear and fear related to COVID-19. We find evidence that social norms classify various foods, such as eggs, as “bad food” due to seasonal concerns. The nutrition trending videos teach people “how to boost children’s immunity” although the information they contain may not be scientifically proven.
  • The online behavior of caregivers differs in urban and rural areas. Government programs make up a greater proportion of nutrition talks in rural areas than in urban areas. In addition, malnutrition remains a deeply political issue and public opinion is largely driven by social media, which has a greater presence and influence in urban areas. Nurses in urban areas are also better informed when it comes to food decisions, while community workers are an important source of information for caregivers in rural areas, although their efforts have been severely affected by the pandemic.

Second, the online discourse was further broken down into seven “types” of personas with different characteristics in order to gain a nuanced understanding of how caregivers of different sex, socio-economic and age-related demographics, both on social media platforms and in relation to Express nutrition search behavior. This segmentation of the population helped figure out which care profiles to target during the social media intervention. We decided to focus on three profiles: Traditional Caregivers, Caregivers in Transition, and Modern Caregivers, all with specific characteristics (age, gender, location):

Profiles of supervisors

Third, we developed a social media intervention to make fathers more involved in children’s diets. We used the profiles to identify certain ways to style messages under each of these profiles and present them to fathers for a campaign that targets them when they engage in other things with social media.

The pilot campaign is currently taking place (on Facebook and Instagram) in 52 districts in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The online campaign’s images and messages cover 14 different subject areas, from expanding the concept of what makes a good provider to empowering fathers in child nutrition (see example below). Some messages contain clear steps fathers can take to participate in food-related activities with their children. others associate nutrition with aspects of child development in which fathers are more involved, such as: B. Cognitive development and educational outcomes. Each topic message has been customized to target each of the identified profiles. We will examine the impact of the campaign on knowledge, interest and behavior.

Announcement on the nutritional benefits of eggs, India.Caption: Eggs are filled with egg white and can be made in many ways; Discuss new recipes with your wife today!

Our team had to adapt due to the limitations of COVID-19 regulations. Using insights from online profiles and search behavior to learn about the design of communication interventions provides the ability to customize interventions when you cannot collect additional data from intended audiences. Pilots like these can also help us gain insights and overcome barriers to effective social and behavior change interventions, especially how people’s online behavior can be linked to their “real” life. Look forward to our results.

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