The Complexity of Nutrition

By Josephine Engreitz (’15)
“The average adult in the developed world eats 2630 kcal/day. The average adult in the developing world eats only 1820 kcal/day. One-fifth of the population in Chad suffers from moderate to severe malnutrition due to food shortages. Meanwhile, in the United States, over one-third of the adult population is obese.Nutrition is one of the most complex and challenging global health issues in the world today. We produce enough food to feed almost 3 billion people more than actually inhabit our planet, yet malnutrition and starvation remain prevalent problems in many parts of the world. We have access to extensive information on proper diet, nutrition, and exercise, yet diabetes and obesity have reached epidemic levels in some countries. Why? Because nutrition is not just an issue of nutrients. It is also an issue of politics, economics, poverty, social influences, cultural context, agricultural systems, distribution problems, traditions, emotions, personal preferences, business, and marketing, among other disciplines.
This means that addressing global nutrition problems, be it malnutrition, diabetes, obesity, anemia, or anything else, is extremely complicated because there are so many different factors that influence eating behaviors. In my global health class this week, we were debating how we might go about planning an intervention to promote diet diversification and improve nutrition in Ghana. Many students suggested nutrition education campaigns, and cooking workshops where nutritionists would demonstrate how to prepare healthy and balanced meals.
But as an ex-nutrition-major, I know from personal experience that education and knowledge does not necessarily translate into changes in health behaviors. How many times did I sit through an NS 1150 lecture about cholesterol and atherosclerosis only to find myself gleefully munching on greasy slice of CTP later that night?

When designing nutrition interventions – particularly those that attempt to change eating behaviors or cooking practices – we must remember that information does not guarantee action. If we can’t even get relatively wealthy Americans who have access to so many healthy food options to change their fattening eating habits, how are we going to convince poor, rural communities in other countries to alter their traditional cooking practices? In order to truly make a difference in a community’s or a country’s food culture, we must think outside the “teach about nutrition” box.  In my mind, this means addressing social and cultural influences, and utilizing political motivators and financial incentives.  

What do you think is the best way to promote healthy eating in the United States? What about in developing countries where financial resources and access to a variety of healthy foods may be limited? 

Check out these interactive maps to further explore nutrition inequities around the world:” 


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