Group 1—Critical evaluation of nutrition science

Co-Chairs: Professor David Raubenheimer and Professor Helen Truby

Malnutrition—including under-nutrition, over-nutrition and imbalanced nutrition—is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other modifiable factor. To what extent must the responsibility for this be borne by nutrition science? This question requires a critical evaluation of what are the responsibilities of nutrition science, how well the field has met these, and where and how it can be improved and equipped to adapt to a rapidly changing future.

The numerous general issues for consideration in addressing these questions include the following: Does the field pay sufficient respect to the complexity of nutrition, and has its engagement been sufficiently inter-disciplinary and multi-sectorial to enable it to deal with this complexity? In the age of rapid access to information via social media and the internet but with little scientific filter on quality, how do we compete to influence individual consumers to adopt evidence-based advice and the behaviour necessary for healthy eating? Where and what are the key influences of nutrition science in Australia, and what could we accomplish in collaboration with each other and with international contributions? What role, if any, can the fundamental biological sciences, evolutionary biology and ecology, play in informing nutrition science? To what extent should nutrition science be concerned exclusively with health, versus broader issues such as environmental sustainability?

Through addressing such issues, the task for this discussion group is to critically evaluate nutrition science and consider ways that the field can be improved to reduce the burden of premature nutrition-related deaths and other adverse outcomes associated with human food systems.

Questions to get you thinking

  1. Are there any doors that are yet to be opened or should we close some doors in our current thinking about nutrition science?
  2. Can we forecast (or recommend) a new paradigm of nutrition science that may inform curricula in schools and universities?
  3. Is there a role of the food and beverage industry in influencing food and nutrition science across Australia?
  4. Is there a need to re-position our research workforce to engage the future scientific endeavour in nutrition e.g. building new and different expertise, establishing infrastructure for analysis of big data?
  5. In the era of restrained research funding what research areas could be prioritised in the national interest?
  6. What do we think the ‘best bets’ may be in achieving a substantial reduction in the obesity epidemic and diet-related disease?
  7. How do we engage and communicate with the public in its understanding of nutrition science?
  8. Is understanding and evidence-based information sufficient to change behaviour, or does nutrition science need to aim for different levels of engagement with the public?

Recommended reading

Raubenheimer D, Gosby AK, Simpson SJ 2015, ‘Integrating nutrients, foods, diets, and appetites with obesity and cardiometabolic health’ Obesity 23(9):1741-2. doi: 10.1002/oby.21214

Scrinis, G. 2013. The nutritionism paradigm: Reductive approaches to nutrient, food and the body. In Nutritionism: The science and politics of dietary advice Columbia University Press.

Allison DB, Bassaganya-Riera J, Burlingame B, Brown AW, le Coutre J, Dickson SL, van Eden W7, Garssen J, Hontecillas R, Khoo CS, Knorr D, Kussmann M, Magistretti PJ, Mehta T, Meule A, Rychlik M, Vögele C 2015, ‘Goals in Nutrition Science 2015-2020’, Frontiers of Nutrition 2:26. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2015.00026

Mozaffarian D 2017 ‘Conflict of Interest and the Role of the Food Industry in Nutrition Research’, JAMA 317(17):1755-1756. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.3456

Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ 2016 ‘Nutritional Ecology and Human Health’, Annual Review of Nutrition 36:603–26 doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071715-051118

© 2022 Australian Academy of Science

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