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PIECING TOGETHER THE PUZZLE

- Local Registered Dietitian Among a Team of Ontario Nutrition Professionals Studying Factors That May Affect Eating Habits -

What factors influence the way people eat? It’s a question a team of Ontario nutrition professionals – including a local Registered Dietitian – are exploring, and for which they are gaining global attention.

Food literacy and its potential influence on people’s eating patterns is the focus of a research project being done by nutrition professionals representing 15 Ontario health units. Recently, the nutrition team reviewed previous studies and research articles to come up with 15 key elements organized into five main areas that make up food literacy. The Ontario team’s findings were published this summer in the international medical journal, Public Health Nutrition, to great interest and fanfare.

“We often think of literacy skills in school, but literacy around food is just as important,” says Elsie Azevedo Perry, the lead on the research project and a Public Health Nutritionist with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit. “Our research into food literacy shows us that there are many factors that are all connected and contribute to the food choices that we ultimately make.”

The nutrition team appreciates the financial support of Public Health Ontario for this research initiative. The aim of the research findings is to develop and test a measurement tool to evaluate public health programs that address healthy eating and seek to help people become more food literate. Eventually, the tool could also show how much food literacy affects a person’s eating habits. “This measurement tool has the potential to be used globally, as similar research is being done by experts elsewhere, including the U.K and Australia,” Azevedo Perry notes.

In their research, the team of Ontario nutrition experts identified five key areas that make up food literacy, including:

Food and nutrition knowledge – This relates to the facts and information about food and nutrition, where to find credible nutrition information, and how to tell the difference between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods.

Food skills – A person’s ability to buy, prepare, handle and store food at all stages of life.

Self-efficacy and confidence – A person’s belief in their ability to perform food skills in a variety of situations. It also includes a person’s attitude towards foods and trying new foods.

External factors – These relate to outside influences that affect the food choices that are made and dietary behavior. This includes access to resources such as adequate income for food, cooking equipment and tools; as well as skill-building opportunities to learn about healthy eating and food skills. Other factors are the food system and the availability of food locally and in the overall environment.

Food decisions – This includes a person’s dietary behavior after applying the knowledge, information and skills to make healthy food choices.

Azevdo Perry says the research into food literacy is like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle, where all the pieces are important and matter. “Many things affect how we eat, not just whether we can cook or know what foods are good for us,” she says. “By looking at all the key elements and areas of food literacy, we can provide programs/services and develop healthy policy measures that will help people make healthier food choices that over time reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart problems and obesity.”

For example, Azevedo Perry notes it is difficult for someone to be food literate without having proper knowledge, skills and ability. At the same time, all that nutrition knowledge and cooking ability is wasted if someone does not have enough money to buy food or lacks confidence to prepare healthy meals. “All the pieces tie together in this puzzle,” she adds.

For media inquiries, contact:

Elsie Azvedo Perry, Public Health Nutritionist, HKPR District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100, or 1-866-888-4577, ext. 1218.

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