Nutrition and Dietetics Professionals Sustainable Food Systems Knowledge Seeking Behaviour (2024)

Citation: Powell, R., Carlsson, L., & Callaghan, E. (2024). Nutrition and Dietetics Professionals Sustainable Food Systems Knowledge Seeking Behaviour. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/19320248.2024.2321231 (paywall)

Abstract

Sustainable food system (SFS) competence is a new and recognized knowledge area for nutrition and dietetics professionals (NDP). This research seeks to describe the SFS knowledge-seeking behavior of NDP.

Secondary data analysis of 231 anonymous self-assessments collected between September 2020 to December 2021 indicate a high proportion (41%) of self-assessed “beginners” in this topic at a mixture of career stages.

There was a preference for learning about topics that already have significant public attention globally. More advanced practitioners sought more applied information.

These results are informative for updating education and professional development tools for NDP.

Teaching nutrition and sustainable food systems: justification and an applied approach (2023 Sep)

Four pillar method of analysis. Prompts to consider when evaluating characteristics of a food product using the sustainable, resilient, healthy food and water system framework.

Campbell, C., & Feldpausch, J. (2023). Teaching nutrition and sustainable food systems: justification and an applied approach. Frontiers in Nutrition. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2023.1167180.

Systems thinking is an essential skill for solving real-world problems, supporting lasting, impactful change, and creating desired futures. Transdisciplinary teaching and learning should be integrated into higher education to ensure students have the knowledge and skills to prosper in an ever-changing world. Education that addresses the interconnectedness of food systems is fundamental in cultivating future generations equipped to mitigate complex problems, such as hunger, nutrition-related chronic disease, and the climate crisis.

Connecting the food, agriculture, and nutrition sectors is vitally important for improving human and planetary health and well-being. While we continue to acknowledge that it is critically important to teach systems thinking in the context of sustainable food systems limited resources are available to facilitate this type of learning. Historically, a “triple-bottom-line” approach focusing on economic, environmental, and social perspectives has been used to define sustainability. In contrast, including nutrition and health may provide a more robust view and even greater consideration for the system in its entirety.

The sustainable, resilient, healthy food and water system framework, addressing all four pillars, can be used in higher education to help evaluate the sustainability of food and compare methods of production, place, and dietary patterns. This paper justifies the need for addressing sustainability issues in the context of nutrition and provides an educational approach to support student understanding and application of a systems thinking approach.

In addition to the resources cited in the descriptions of the four pillars; the Food Systems Dashboard, Our World in Data, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest may be beneficial references to consider for multiple pillars.

Note: Even though the article is written from the perspective of and with examples from the USA, the teaching approach could easily use other examples from any region of the world.

Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning (IFSTAL)

IFSTAL (Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning) is a cross-university, interdisciplinary food systems training programme for postgraduate students to address global food challenges.

There is an urgent need to train a cohort of professionals who can address and resolve the increasing number of fundamental failings in the global food system. The solutions to these systemic failings go far beyond the production of food and are embedded within broad political, economic, business, social, cultural, and environmental contexts. The challenge of developing efficient, socially acceptable, and sustainable food systems that meet the demands of a growing global population can only be tackled through an interdisciplinary systems approach that integrates social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

IFSTAL is designed to improve post-graduate level knowledge and understanding of food systems from a much broader interdisciplinary perspective, which can be applied to students’ studies. Ultimately, these graduates should be equipped to apply critical interdisciplinary systems thinking in the workplace to understand how problems are connected, their root causes, and where critical leverage points might be.

Led by the Food Systems Research Programme at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, IFSTAL is a pioneering consortium of institutions: Oxford University, Warwick University, Royal Veterinary College, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

A pathway to personal, population and planetary health for dietitians and nutrition professionals (2023 Nov)

MacKenzie-Shalders, K. L., Barbour, L., Charlton, K., Cox, G. R., Lawrence, M., Murray, S., Newberry, K., Senior, N. M., Stanton, R., & Tagtow, A. M. (2023). A pathway to personal, population and planetary health for dietitians and nutrition professionals. Public Health Nutrition, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/puh2.137

Abstract

Background

Earth and all its inhabitants are threatened by a planetary crisis; including climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss and pollution. Dietitians and nutrition professionals have a responsibility to lead transformational change in contemporary food and health systems to help mitigate this crisis. The study aims to develop a conceptual framework to support dietitians towards personal, population and planetary health.

Methods

Non-empirical methods were used by the co-researchers to explore and explain the application of an international framework ‘Next-Generation Solutions to Address Adaptive Challenges in Dietetics Practice: The I + PSE Conceptual Framework for Action’. (I+PSE = Individual plus Policy, System, and Environmental)

Results

A non-sequential pathway guide to personal, population and planetary health for nutrition professionals was developed including several key guiding principles of Agency, Action, Ascension, Alignment, Alliance and Allyship, and Advocacy and Activism. Each guiding principle features descriptors and descriptions to enhance dietitian and nutrition professional

  • Agency (i.e. vision, self-belief, confidence, strength and responsibility),
  • Action (i.e. start, shift, translate, achieve and commit),
  • Ascension (i.e. build, overcome, manage, challenge and progress),
  • Alignment (i.e. leadership, transparency, diplomacy, values and systems),
  • Alliance and Allyship (i.e. support, collaborate, represent, community and citizenship) and
  • Advocacy and Activism (i.e. disrupt, co-design, transform, empower and urgency).

The framework and its descriptors support enhanced understanding and are modifiable and flexible in their application to guide the participation of dietitians and nutrition professionals in transformational change in personal, population and planetary health. This guide acknowledges that First Nations knowledge and customs are important to current and future work within this field.

Conclusions

Alongside the international body of work progressing in this field, this framework and visual guide will support dietitians and nutrition professionals to achieve urgent, transformational change in personal, population and planetary health.

Including aspects of sustainability in the degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics: An evaluation based on student perceptions (2020)

Education is progressing towards having a more sustainable outlook. Numerous approaches to sustainability teaching have been conducted at different educational stages, but few studies have used quantitative methods to measure its impact.

The aim of this quasi-experimental intervention was to integrate competences in “Sustainable Development” (SustD) into the teaching syllabus of a degree at University of the Basque Country (Spain), in Human Nutrition and Dietetics through active methodologies. Seven courses were selected to implement ten activities, across four academic levels of this degree. Students completed a questionnaire both before and after the intervention in order to measure their perception of knowledge of SustD and to assess their sustainable intentional behaviour (SIB).

According to the results, their SustD related knowledge increased after the intervention, although this was not clearly reflected in their SIB. This study aims to identify good practices and the best conditions for future longitudinal interventions.

Pay Wall to access: Virginia Navarro, Olaia Martínez, Jonatan Miranda, Diego Rada, María Ángeles Bustamante, Iñaki Etaio, Arrate Lasa, Edurne Simón, Itziar Churruca. Including aspects of sustainability in the degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics: An evaluation based on student perceptions, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 243, 2020, 118545, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.118545.

Centering Equity in Sustainable Food Systems Education (2021)

Sustainable food systems education (SFSE) is rapidly advancing to meet the need for developing future professionals who are capable of effective decision-making regarding agriculture, food, nutrition, consumption, and waste in a complex world. Equity, particularly racial equity and its intersectional links with other inequities, should play a central role in efforts to advance SFSE given the harmful social and environmental externalities of food systems and ongoing oppression and systemic inequities such as lack of food access faced by racialized and/or marginalized populations. However, few institutional and intra-disciplinary resources exist on how to engage students in discussion about equity and related topics in SFSE.

This article presents perspectives based on multi-institutional collaborations to develop and apply pedagogical materials that center equity while building students’ skills in systems thinking, critical reflection, and affective engagement. Examples are provided of how to develop undergraduate and graduate sustainable food systems curricula that embrace complexity and recognize the affective layers, or underlying experiences of feelings and emotions, when engaging with topics of equity, justice, oppression, and privilege.

This work is part of the “Teaching Food Systems CoP” which was launched in 2016 by faculty members at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, in parallel with the redesign of an undergraduate food systems course. The goals of the CoP are to convene academics and practitioners focused on SFSE, to: (1) support and grow a CoP for developing and implementing curricula in food systems courses; (2) share materials using systems thinking frameworks to teach about food systems; and (3) foster assessment tools on student learning in systems thinking.

Supplementary materials provide course outlines and valuable links to resources.

Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 28 October 2021
Sec. Social Movements, Institutions and Governance
Volume 5 – 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2021.737434

Leveraging Online Learning to Promote Systems Thinking for Sustainable Food Systems Training in Dietetics Education (2021)

Educating and training a multisectoral food systems workforce is a critical part of developing sustainable, resilient, and healthy food and water systems. This paper shares perspectives from a working group of educators, learners, and food systems subject matter experts that collaborated over the course of a year to develop, pilot test, and evaluate two interactive webinar series with a multi-site cohort of dietetics interns and graduate students.

The three-part format included a training webinar, a practice activity, and a synthesis webinar. All activities were conducted online between March and May, 2019. Materials from these sessions are available online including training webinar recordings, practice activity templates, and a discussion guide. Both series, while focusing on different topical areas within nutrition, introduced opportunities to practice systems thinking and consider connections between students’ core training in dietetics and the challenges of sustainable food systems.

The 20-person working group included stakeholders from the Future of Food Initiative, directors of dietetics education programs (henceforth: educators), and dietetics interns and graduate students (henceforth: learners) from four university sites implementing the curriculum in the United States. The programs collectively enrolled over 140 learners at any given time through in-person, distance, and hybrid programs. Because the series were offered as optional activities beyond the required curricula at each site, and because the four programs operated on independent timelines, the two series were not attended by identical groups of students.

In reflecting on the effectiveness of this format, we provide direct assessments of student learning from subject matter experts alongside indirect assessments from pre- and post-surveys fielded with learners. Learners who participated in an interactive webinar series demonstrated skills in several dimensions of systems thinking and gained confidence in food systems learning outcomes. Learners also shared valuable feedback on the opportunities and challenges of using online platforms for this experience.

As online learning opportunities become more common, it will become increasingly important for educators to prioritize strategies that effectively equip students with the higher-order thinking skills, such as systems thinking, needed to address the complexities of sustainable food systems. The interactive webinar series format described here provides an opportunity to leverage didactic webinars in combination with interactive experiences that enable learners to deepen their knowledge through practice with peers and subject matter experts. Though this format was piloted within dietetics education programs, many of the lessons learned are transferable to other food systems educational contexts.

Citation: Spiker M, Hege A, Giddens J, Cummings J, Steinmetz J, Tagtow A, Bergquist E, Burns L, Campbell C, Stadler D, Combs E, Prange N, Schwartz A, Brown K and Sauer K (2021) Leveraging Online Learning to Promote Systems Thinking for Sustainable Food Systems Training in Dietetics Education. Front. Nutr. 8:623336. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.623336

JHND Special Issue: Sustainable Food Systems and Dietary Patterns in Nutrition and Dietetic Practice (2023 Dec)

The British Dietetic Association’s Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (JHND) published a Special Issue on Sustainable Food Systems and Dietary Patterns in Nutrition and Dietetic Practice edited by: Liesel Carlsson, Angela Madden, and Kalliopi-Anna Poulia (Volume 36, Issue 6, Pages: 2121-2350, December 2023).

Twelve of the sixteen articles are open access and cover a wide range of practice settings.

  • Open Access – Conceptualising sustainability in Canadian dietetic practice: A scoping review – Dietitians are well-positioned to promote sustainable food systems and diets. This research identifies practice activities described in the Canadian published literature and compares these with dietetic competency standards. Increasing practitioners’ ability to analyse issues using systems thinking will help address complex challenges. Updates to competency standards and curricular supports are needed to support this area of practice.
  • Open Access – Local food procurement by hospitals: a scoping review – There is a paucity of peer-reviewed studies describing local food procurement by hospitals. Details of local food procurement models were generally lacking: categorisable as either purchases made ‘on-contract’ via conventional means or ‘off-contract’. If hospital foodservices are to increase their local food procurement, they require access to a suitable, reliable and traceable supply, that acknowledges their complexity and budgetary constraints.

Equipping nutrition graduates for the complex realities of practice: Using practitioner perspectives and experiences to inform authentic sustainability curriculum (2023)

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:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jhn.13159

Relevant to:

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.

Abstract:

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:

  1. understanding foundational concepts of sustainability and food systems,
  2. understanding the relevance of SFS to nutrition and dietetic practice, and
  3. 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.

Corresponding author:

Judith Maher, Doctor of Philosophy (Nutrition and Dietetics), jmaher@usc.edu.au

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