Maher, J, Ashford, T, Verdonck, M, English, E, Burkhart, S. Equipping nutrition graduates for the complex realities of practice: Using practitioner perspectives and experiences to inform authentic sustainability curriculum. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2023; 1– 11. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.13159
Open access link to article:
Dietitians, Practitioners, Nutrition students, Nutrition graduates
Questions the research focuses on:
How do a cohort of Australian N&D professionals perceive opportunities for integrating sustainability into practice? What are the challenges or barriers to realizing these?
Bottom line for nutrition practice:
We recognize practitioners as a source of experience, anticipating where sustainability discourse and nutrition practice intersect.
Background: Nutrition professionals’ function at the nexus of food, nutrition status and the myriad of determinants influencing these. However, defining our role in food system transformation requires a multifaceted and deep understanding of sustainability in the context of nutrition and dietetics (N&D). Practitioner perspectives and experiences provide a rich source of practice wisdom that can inform authentic curriculum to equip students for the complex realities of practice; however, there is limited understanding of these in the Australian higher education setting.
Methods: Qualitative methodology using semi structured interviews with 10 Australian N&D professionals. Thematic analysis was used to understand how they perceive opportunities and barriers for integrating sustainability into practice.
Results: Practitioners’ experience in sustainability practice varied. Themes were identified in two categories: opportunities and barriers. Themes that reflected future practice opportunities included “Preparing the workforce” (for academics and practitioners interfacing with students), “Practical individual level work” and “System level and policy interests”. Themes that were considered barriers to integrating sustainability in practice included “lack of contextual evidence” and “complexity and competing priorities”.
Conclusions: Our findings make a novel contribution to the current literature as we recognise practitioners as a source of experience anticipating where sustainability and nutrition practice intersect. Our work provides practice-informed content and context that may assist educators to create authentic sustainability-focused curriculum and assessment to replicate the complexity of practice.
Details of results:
- Practitioners found it difficult to name specific examples of sustainability in practice, possibly because of the current landscape where there is a lack of consensus on what sustainability in nutrition and dietetic practice is.
- Integrating sustainability into nutrition practice was associated with two themes categorized as barriers. These were: a lack of contextual evidence, complexity and competing priorities.
- Integrating sustainability into nutrition practice was also associated with three themes for opportunities: learning and teaching practice to prepare the workforce; individual-level practice and application; and broader system/policy-level practice.
- The results show that opportunities and barriers are interconnected, and it is likely that the perceived opportunities can be realized if sectorial, institutional, and government policies change and the profession advances and adapts.
- Preparing students for practicing with a sustainability lens requires integration of sustainability in its various forms into N&D curriculum and equipping them with the skills and capabilities to contribute meaningfully to N&D practice from an individual to food system level.
- Knowledge alone may not equip graduates to effectively practice for human and planetary health. Moving forward, practice insights provide a productive platform for curriculum development, both situating practice within the current complex contexts or “realities” at the same time as also considering a future that integrates sustainability and nutrition more closely.
- There is a predominant environmental focus that may limit the effectiveness of student training, particularly in addressing more challenging and complex situations or settings where environmental concerns must also be balanced with social and economic realities.
- If governments or institutions have not yet included sustainability within their policies, curriculum developers can. This will then shift the expectation of N&D graduates who may be able to advocate for change from inside government and institutions.
Of additional interest:
⇾ ICDA Learning Modules – These three learning modules are structured to support your knowledge in:
- understanding foundational concepts of sustainability and food systems,
- understanding the relevance of SFS to nutrition and dietetic practice, and
- being able to apply SFS concepts in your practice.
⇾ NDA SFS Position Papers – Several nutrition and dietetics associations are officially recognising the relevance of Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) and/or sustainable diets to nutrition and dietetics practice.
⇾ SFS Education in Nutrition & Dietetics degrees: Global Case Studies – International Dietetic educators integrating sustainability into their curricula. The is an online platform for sharing examples serves as a series of mini case studies
⇾ Teaching Food Systems and Sustainability in Nutrition Education and Dietetic Training: Lessons for Educators (2013) – This is a PDF compilation of research and experiential lesson plans from food, nutrition and dietetic educators in the US and Canada.
⇾ The Food Sustainability Index (FSI) as an Educational Tool (2016) – The FSI has an intended audience of university students and graduate students, by can be used for anyone who interested in learning more about the connection of food and nutrition to sustainable food systems and the Sustainable Development Goals.
⇾ Sustainability: nutrition and dietetic students’ perceptions (2020) – This Australian study explored nutrition and dietetic undergraduate students’ self-reported views and actions related to sustainability, with a view to building a holistic curriculum that includes content and competencies required to address UN Sustainable Development Goals.
⇾ Leveraging Online Learning to Promote Systems Thinking for Sustainable Food Systems Training in Dietetics Education (2021) – A multidisciplinary group of educators, learners, and food systems experts representing eight different institutions across the US worked together over one year to develop, pilot test, and evaluate two interactive webinar series. The series was provided for dietetics interns and graduate students at four university sites in the United States between March and May 2019.
⇾ Summary: How do dietetics students learn about sustainability? A scoping review (2023) – Despite increasing discussion about the role of dietitians in supporting sustainable food systems, effective integration into dietetics curricula is understudied. Some evidence points to the importance of experiential learning, and scaffolded learning about SFS through integration into a number of different courses.
Conflict of interest/funding:
The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.
Judith Maher, Doctor of Philosophy (Nutrition and Dietetics), firstname.lastname@example.org