Tackling the Question of Change at The Global Nutrition Symposium

Mental models, systems thinking, and change agents were some of the big ideas circulating during the Global Nutrition Symposium on Thursday, February 8, 2024.

The question, “Change is Possible – But How?” was the theme of this year’s event.

Speakers showcased how to facilitate social and behavioral changes that are essential to achieve positive nutrition-related impacts through dietary choices, and agriculture and food systems as a whole.

Dr. Robert Gilbert, the Interim Senior Vice President for UF/IFAS, made the opening remarks. The hope, he said, is that the event will reinforce the notion that change is possible indeed.

Anchoring the event was Saskia Hendrickx, the Associate Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, who welcomed project leaders, researchers, and students to the symposium held in Gainesville for the second time since 2017.

An air of familiarity mingled with the smell of coffee during the 8:30 a.m. registration. Over one hundred guests pre-registered online. Warm embraces were shared before attendees settled into their seats. A photo gallery graced the entrance of the Rion Ballroom in the Reitz Union, where the event was held, graced. In one photo, a large saucepan of milk is boiling over an open flame. In another, a cow is getting vaccinated. The photos captured work from the Lab’s current projects in Burkina Faso, Niger, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nepal.

The speakers from the university and the Lab’s affiliated organizations explored ways to design, implement, and measure effective social and behavior change strategies in the context of their work internationally. The “Nutrition as a Family Affair” panel raised questions about the intersection of gender and access, particularly how household dynamics affect access to nutritional food for women and young children and how important it is to engage men in the process.

Kelly Davidson, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, had attendees draw what they typically ate for lunch. She challenged them to compare their examples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” recommendations. Using her expertise in food marketing and human behavior economics, she explained how economic and social constraints limit different communities’ access to healthy food.

In addition to sharing their international research projects, speakers made their talks interactive by drawing on local connections.

“How do I get farmers to drink more water?” Paul Monaghan asked.

Dr. Monaghan is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication. He specializes in farm safety.

From interpersonal relationships in collaborative research to children as drivers of food choice, this year’s symposium delved deeply and stretched widely into the factors that influence behavior change. At an individual level, attendees were invited to rethink their daily habits and food choices. As a community, they were asked to consider the factors beyond one’s social and economic circumstances that create and sustain habits and how interconnected their solutions can be.

As the symposium ended around 4:30 p.m., Dr. Geoff Dahl, director of the Livestock Systems Innovation Lab, left guests with a powerful reminder: think globally and act locally.

By Nadia Kusiima.


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Posted: March 11, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, UF/IFAS
Tags: Behavior Change, Food Safety, Human Health, International Development, Nutrition, Research

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