“Food Thinkers: Rethinking evidence use for food and nutrition policy” with Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence- Rethinking evidence use for food and nutrition policy

When: Wednesday 30 September 2015, 4 pm

About the talk: Dietary risk factors are the leading contributors to the global burden of disease. Along with an increasing population size, dietary behaviours also place significant demands on the environment to provide a sufficient food supply. Relatedly, diminishing environmental resources and climate change threaten global food security. These nutrition and environmental sustainability challenges are interconnected and unprecedented in their nature, scope and scale.

Food and nutrition policies are urgently needed to help redesign food systems so as to tackle these challenges and promote healthy and sustainable diets. Evidence is essential to inform these policies. In this regard, an increasing number of nutritionists are calling for more support for the development, implementation and evaluation of interventions based on dietary patterns and food systems. Yet in practice, food and nutrition policy agendas are dominated by micronutrient-oriented interventions such as nutrient fortification and food reformulation. Whereas these interventions align with the interests of certain food scientists/nutritionists and provide opportunities for food manufacturers to develop new processed food products, questions are being raised about their effectiveness and risks. If food and nutrition policy is evidence-informed, how is this situation arising? Evidence use in food and nutrition policy-making has become problematic. What counts as evidence for informing food and nutrition policy? Is the generation, synthesis and translation of evidence use in food and nutrition policy-making independent of political influence and vested interests?

This seminar will operate from the premise that conventional nutrition science with its foundations in medical settings and its reliance on reductionist methods to generate an evidence base, is insufficient to tackle contemporary food and nutrition challenges. The argument to be presented is that nutrition science and the evidence synthesis models to support food and nutrition policies need to be reformed.

A framework will be presented to help extend the conceptual basis of evidence synthesis models beyond their current emphasis on the evaluation of nutrient trials, to the evaluation of food-, dietary pattern-, and food system interventions. The reform agenda requires that this conceptualisation be complemented with changing the ‘one size fits all’ mindset for evidence synthesis models and methods in nutrition to the more pertinent ‘fit for purpose’. Until food and nutrition policy researchers and practitioners act upstream to reform the conventional evidence synthesis models that dominate evidence use in food and nutrition policy-making, too much of our efforts will continue to be constrained to responding downstream to the consequences of poorly formulated policies.

About the speaker: Mark is a Professor in Public Health Nutrition at Deakin University. He has more than 30 years’ experience working as a practitioner and academic in food and nutrition policy at local, national and international levels. Mark’s research interests focus on investigating the science and politics of evidence use in food and nutrition policy-making. He is leading a transdisciplinary research team analysing policy interventions to promote healthy and sustainable food systems and is a Chief Investigator at the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Centre for Research Excellence in Obesity Policy and Food Systems. Mark was responsible for developing the Public Health Nutrition component of the Nutrition Society of Australia’s professional registration scheme. He is a technical advisor to the WHO, a member of the Australian Department of Health’s and New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Advisory Committee for the review of the Nutrient Reference Values, a former member of the NHMRC’s Dietary Guidelines Working Committee and a member of Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s Public Health Dialogue.



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