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Nutrition and Food Literacy | NNEdPro Research

Author: Janice Man 

Reviewers: Sarah Armes & Veronica Funk Petric 


The world is becoming increasingly complex, making it challenging to keep up with the information needed for our day-to-day lives. One area where people often feel confused is in making healthy food choices. With so much conflicting information and ever-evolving recommendations, it can be difficult to know what to believe. This confusion can lead to unhealthy choices and negative health outcomes.  


This blog post will cover the significance of nutrition and food literacy, the impact of food illiteracy on health, and the pivotal role of food literacy in making well-informed decisions about our health. Additionally, we'll explore the importance of having a comprehensive understanding of health and wellness to foster positive choices and prevent chronic diseases. 


Health, Nutrition, and Food Literacy  

Health literacy encompasses cognitive and social abilities that enable individuals to access, understand, and manage health information for promoting and maintaining health. Nutrition literacy, a subset of health literacy focuses on understanding nutritional principles, reading labels, and making healthy food choices. Food literacy, on the other hand, delves into the social aspects of food production, origin, and their impact on health, society, and the environment.  


Understanding and integrating health, nutrition and food literacy are essential for promoting individual health and well-being, as well as fostering a global community. This comprehensive approach goes beyond acquiring knowledge about nutrition and extends to understanding the broader social, cultural, economic, and environmental dimensions of food choices.  


The Emergence of Food Illiteracy as a Global Issue  

The rise of food illiteracy globally is linked to the increase in diet-related diseases due to a lack of understanding about making healthy food choices. Our modern food system includes the marketing of processed foods, makes it difficult for people to maintain a balanced diet. Factors like lack of time and cooking skills contribute to this issue, especially among older adults who are less likely to cook from scratch and pass on cooking knowledge. Food illiteracy affects people’s ability to know what’s in their food, leading to unhealthy eating habits and contributing to health problems like obesity and diabetes.  


Children’s food literacy is also low, with many schools not providing healthy meals and relying on parents or vending machines offering sugary snacks. Improving children’s knowledge about healthy eating habits early on is crucial for lifelong health. Food literacy contributes to food waste, with one-third of all food produced globally being wasted each year. This not only wastes resources but also has health, social, economic, and environmental impacts. Measuring food literacy is essential for understanding and addressing this issue, with tools like self-perceived food literacy scales and short food literacy questionnaires being used to assess people’s food literacy skills.  


Food Literacy and Health Outcomes  

In recent years, there has been growing interest in studying how food literacy affects our health. People who lack basic knowledge about food are more likely to develop health issues like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. To address this, it is important to identify the factors that contribute to food literacy and health inequities, so policymakers and educators can take action.  


“Health inequities are differences in health status or distribution of health resources between different population groups, arising from the social conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age”. 


Disadvantaged populations are more likely to experience food-related health inequities due to limited access to healthy foods and information about healthy diets. Whereas, in developed countries, most people have high levels of food literacy, but this is not the case in developing countries. Marketers of unhealthy food often focus their advertising efforts on populations that may have limited access to accurate information about healthy eating habits or may lack access to resources or information that could help them recognise and challenge false or misleading claims. 


Education programs should focus on improving food literacy among populations with low levels of education. This will help reduce health inequities globally and ensure that everyone has access to nutritious foods and knows how to prepare them.  


Challenges to Health Communication  

In recent years, there's been more focus on how food impacts our health. Unhealthy eating habits are linked to diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. To promote healthier eating, it's crucial to communicate about food effectively. This means using strategies similar to marketing to encourage people to make better food choices. 


Effective communication involves clear messages, targeted interventions, and ongoing evaluation of results. Communication happens on three levels: individual, organisational, and societal. Governments play a role by funding public education campaigns and implementing policies like taxes on unhealthy foods and subsidies for fresh produce. Furthermore, labelling on food products can also help consumers make informed choices. Education programs, community farming, and cooking classes can improve food literacy and encourage healthier eating habits. In the digital age, social media and online resources are powerful tools for sharing information about nutrition and healthy eating.  


Effective communication in healthcare settings is essential for patient safety, care coordination, patient-centered practices, and collaboration among healthcare teams. It ensures that patients receive the right care and are involved in decisions about their treatment. Clear communication also supports quality improvement initiatives and helps healthcare providers stay informed and engaged in continuous learning. 


Key Takeaways:  

  1. Importance of Food Literacy: Understanding how food affects health is crucial for making informed dietary choices and preventing diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.  

  1. Health Inequities: Low-income and marginalised communities often lack access to healthy food and nutrition information, leading to greater health disparities.  

  1. Need for Education Programs: Implementing education programs that teach people about healthy eating and cooking nutritious meals is essential to address food illiteracy. Vulnerable and marginalised populations should be targeted.  

  1. Challenges in Health Communication: Health professionals, educators and policymakers must collaborate to promote accurate and trustworthy information about food and nutrition.  

  1. Advocacy for Equity: Advocating for policies that ensure equitable access to healthy food and accurate nutritional information is crucial for reducing inequities and promoting a culture of well-informed healthy living. 


Check out this journal paper more in depth and let us know what you think about food and nutrition literacy!  

Adapted from the article "Nutrition and Food Literacy: Framing the Challenges to Health Communication" by Paula Silva, Rita Araújo, Felisbela Lopes, and Sumantra Ray, published by MDPI Journal.

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