How do dietetics students learn about sustainability? A scoping review (2023)

McCormack, J., Rutherford, S., Ross, L. J., Noble, C., & Bialocerkowski, A. (2023). How do dietetics students learn about sustainability? A scoping review. Nutrition & Dietetics. https://doi.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12795

Link to the article

Open Access: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1747-0080.12795

Relevant to:

Dietetic Educators, Dietitians, Dietetic Students

Questions the research focuses on:

  1. What teaching approaches and evaluation strategies have been used to underpin the learning activities focused on sustainability in dietetics entry-level curricula?
  2. What are the learning outcomes of these activities based on the Kirkpatrick-Barr framework?
  3. Have the UNESCO and Commonwealth Secretariat recommendations translated into the delivery of sustainability content in nutrition and dietetics entry-level curricula based on articles published since their development?

Bottom line for nutrition practice:

Despite increasing discussion about the role of dietitians in supporting sustainable food systems, effective integration into dietetics curricula is understudied. Without clear competencies and guidance, educators are doing this ad hoc. More guidance is needed. Some evidence points to the importance of experiential learning, and scaffolded learning about SFS through integration into a number of different courses.

Abstract:

Aim: Globally, sustainability and planetary health are emerging as areas of critical importance. In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by the United Nations member states. Since then, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Commonwealth Secretariat have published guidelines for educators to embed sustainability content into curricula. This scoping review aims to identify how student dietitians learn about sustainability, how learning opportunities are evaluated, their outcomes, and whether these guidelines have translated into teaching activities contained in dietetic degrees.

Methods: A scoping review was used to address the aims. Eight electronic databases and Google Scholar were searched from inception to March 2022 for articles describing dietetics students’ participation in learning activities focused on sustainability. Data that addressed the research aims were charted independently by two researchers, then narratively synthesized.

Results: Twelve articles met the inclusion criteria. A range of teaching approaches and evaluation methods were used, from passive learning in lectures to experiential learning activities. A change in knowledge or behaviour was found for experiential learning activities (n = 5). For articles published after 2015 (n = 9), two mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals and no articles referenced the published guidelines.

Conclusions: A paucity of evidence exists describing how dietetics students learn about sustainability and their learning outcomes. Of the 12 articles published, varied teaching approaches and evaluation methods have resulted in inconsistencies in the reporting of outcomes. The minimal reference to the Sustainable Development Goals and published guidelines suggests a slow translation of knowledge to practice.

Details of results:

  • The database search yielded 1363 unique items. A total of 12 articles met the inclusion criteria and were therefore included in this scoping review. With 12 articles found, each used a unique method. This variety in both the teaching approach and evaluation makes it difficult for dietetics educators to choose an approach that maximizes the knowledge and skills attained by students.
  • Given the drive to upskill both students and dietitians alike in this critical area of practice, longer-term outcomes should be measured. Arguably, the depth and complexity of the knowledge required to develop dietetics students who are competent in this area cannot be taught in one course and requires the development of knowledge and skills to occur over a longer time period. This aligns with recommendations made by UNESCO and the Commonwealth Secretariate that suggest scaffolding content across multiple courses to develop key competencies. UNESCO recommends that educators embed an action-oriented, transformative pedagogy, that is scaffolded across the curriculum, and not contained in a stand-alone course.
  • Based on this review, only three articles referred to the Sustainable Development Goals, and no articles referred to the UNESCO or Commonwealth Secretariat Guidelines.
  • Without clear competencies from professional bodies and guidance on what to include in the curriculum, academics with an interest in sustainability may add content only when necessary.
  • Based on this review of peer-reviewed and grey literature, there is limited literature to describe how student dietitians are learning about sustainability within their dietetics education programs. The variable teaching approaches and evaluation methods used have resulted in inconsistencies in the reporting of outcomes, and the minimal reference to the Sustainable Development Goals and other published guidelines suggests a slow translation of knowledge to practice in the higher education setting.

Of additional interest: 

Conflict of interest/ funding:

Open access publishing facilitated by Griffith University, as part of the Wiley – Griffith University agreement via the Council of Australian University Librarians. The authors declare no conflicts of interests.

Corresponding author:

Joanna McCormack, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) j.mccormack@griffith.edu.au

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