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Food and Nutrition Insights from the 2018 Ambition Nutrition Symposium

Food and Nutrition Insights from the 2018 Ambition Nutrition Symposium
By Mary Wales, Communications Coordinator, Nutrition Resrouce Centre at the Ontario Public Health Association

Dr. Kelly Brownell, Dean of the Stanford School of Public Policy of Duke University, was the keynote speaker at George Brown College’s recent Ambition Nutrition Symposium in Toronto.  He spoke alongside other food and nutrition experts including Chef Christine Cushing, Nishta Saxena, RD, and Dr. David and Chef Dawn Ludwig on a range of topics including the importance of cooking and food literacy across the lifespan, nutrition information in social media, low glycemic eating and more.
Dr. Brownell’s talk focused on collaborating to create better food policies. Here are three key take-aways from the 2018 Ambition Nutrition keynote speaker:

It’s Important to Think About Food Policy in a Broad Way 

The keynote speaker drew attention to the fact that there are many people whose work is connected to agriculture in food in some way. He covered four key issues contributing to the food policy web today: hunger & food insecurity, obesity, environmental impact of agriculture, and food safety and defense. He emphasized that all “players” need to work together to achieve better health for all. He brought up the example of how farm subsidies in the U.S. support agriculture and food production that isn’t necessarily good for health. A better approach could be to financially support the growing of healthy food and making sure publically-funded food programs (e.g. SNAP) are for healthy food and not sugary drinks. He also spoke about the conflict of interest between growing the food industry and public health, comparing the power of some food companies to the power of tobacco companies in the past. He stressed that it’s taking “way too long” for us to move in a similar direction for food companies.

Chronic Diseases on the Rise from a  “Westernization” of Diets 

It was shocking to hear how quickly chronic diseases (like diabetes and obesity) are on the rise globally, and food and diets obviously play a big part in this. Dr. Brownwell showed a  graph listing  the top 10 risk factors for global deaths—including health problems like blood pressure, obesity, high blood sugar, high sodium and more. Apart from smoking and alcohol, diet and food is connected to 8 of the 10 top risk factors for global deaths. Without a doubt, if we’re working to improve health, food and healthy eatingare very important things to focus on. In Western countries, reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods seems to be key. For non-western countries, ensuring diets remain healthier and don’t become “westernized” should certainly not be put on the back burner.

Plant-Based Diets Are More Efficient 

Colourful and trending, plant-based diets are all the rage these days—and surely they also bother and frighten some. However, when it comes to the environment, plant-based diets are the way to go.  Dr. Brownell focused on water consumption and climate change and talked about how 92% of water used globally is for agriculture. He showed how growing grains uses a lot less water than producing livestock like chicken or beef. This likely wasn’t new news at all for most of the audience, but just how much more efficient plant based diets are maybe was: 15 times more efficient than standard diets according to the scholar. A key point was obviously that what we choose to eat has a big impact on the world’s water and greenhouse gas emissions.
This event was George Brown College’s third Ambition Nutrition Symposium, with the goal being to contribute to public health discourse around nutrition and examine important issues of diet, health and culinary arts. For more information visit https://ambition-nutrition.ca/.  


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