Sustainable food systems and diets in dietetic training standards: an international content analysis (2022 Dec)

Higgins, M,  Strother, H,  Burkhart, S,  Carlsson, L,  Meyer, NL,  Spiker, M, et al. Sustainable food systems and diets in dietetic training standards: an international content analysis. J Hum Nutr Diet.  2022; 1– 10. (open access)

Background: Low professional confidence and perceived competence create tangible barriers to integrating sustainable food systems (SFS) and diets into dietetic practice. One opportunity to facilitate more systemic integration into dietetic education and training is to include these concepts in professional standards. To better understand the barrier of low professional confidence and perceived competence for engagement with SFS-related practice, the purpose of this research was to investigate dietetic training standards for SFS content and to highlight opportunities for growth within the profession. Questions posed by this research are: (1) how, if at all, are SFS and diets articulated in dietetic training standards, and (2) to what level of cognitive complexity?

Methods: A content analysis of dietetic training standards documents was conducted between 15 April and 15 September 2021. Search terms included ‘sustain’ or ‘sustainable’, ‘food systems’ and/or ‘diets’. Extracted data with applicable SFS content were analysed for level of cognitive complexity requirements.

Results: Of 47 National Dietetics Associations, researchers obtained 23 dietetic training standards documents, of which 16 included SFS-related content. The majority of documents used broad descriptors of the concepts, with little granularity and at a lower level of cognitive complexity.

Conclusions: Adoption of more robust frameworks for sustainability with specific learning outcomes that can be adapted to regional contexts would strengthen higher education curricula and thus the profession’s ability to contribute more meaningfully to SFSs and diets.

Key points:

  • This research examined how countries are training dietitians for SFS competence.
  • Of 23 dietetic training standards reviewed, 16 included SFS-related content.
  • More than 50% used broad/general language with little granularity; 59% require shallow depth of knowledge.
  • More robust frameworks adaptable to regional contexts would strengthen the training and ability to contribute to SFS.


Madalyn HigginsHeather StrotherSarah BurkhartLiesel CarlssonNanna L. MeyerMarie SpikerJessica Wegener

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Dietetic EducatorResearch