3rd International Symposium on Nutrition: Urban Food Policies for Sustainable Nutrition and Health Conference Overview

Published online: 28 January 2022


Due to the continued travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3rd International Symposium on Nutrition (ISN), which was planned to take place as a face-to-face event in Lille, was replaced with an online conference organised by The Nutrition Society.

Organised jointly with the French Nutrition Society (Société Française de Nutrition), over 125 delegates from academia, policy, industry and city representatives came together to virtually present and debate issues related to urban policies for sustainable nutrition and health. Attendees joined from over 20 countries ranging from Japan, Kuwait, US, France, Ireland and the UK.

Day one

Dr Nicolas Bricas, Montpellier Interdisciplinary centre on Sustainable Agri-food systems (MoISA), France opened with the first plenary lecture discussing ‘what is meant by sustainable urban food systems’. Dr Bricas highlighted the many challenges cities pose to sustainable food systems, including the importation of staple foods rather than sourcing locally, and social inequalities which lead to poor access to nutritious food, cause changes in consumption patterns, and lead to undernutrition and obesity.

Symposium one then took a closer look at the causes and consequences of urban nutrition on health issues. Dr Hibbah Osei-Kwasi, University of Sheffield, UK discussed how the burden of non-communicable diseases has impacted migrants originating from LMICs through shifts towards lower levels of physical activity, increased tobacco use and diets higher in fat, sugar, and salt.

Given current levels of hunger and malnutrition, amidst the devastating impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change, Dr Cecilia Tacoli, International Institute for Environmental Development, UK warned delegates that the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by 2030 is unlikely to be met. Dr Tacoli stressed the importance of acknowledging food security as crucial to the success of poverty reduction initiatives and is closely linked to gender inequality and the multiple dimensions of social exclusion.

Understanding how we consume food is crucial if we are to successfully map the resilience of urban food systems, and ‘alternative food systems’ can play a critical role in shaping their future. Dr Christian Reynolds, University of London, UK, opened symposium two by showing how emerging and innovate alternative food systems such as community fridges, gardens, and food hubs, have been a positive outcome of the UK COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Hélène Charreire, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France, added that these urban transformations in cities can be opportunities for research on sustainable nutrition and health, but to understand and tackle the complex relationships between the environment and health-related behaviours, assessment requires a combination of approaches involving health professionals and urban planners.

Professor Saadi Lahlou, London School of Economics, UK closed day one with a fascinating plenary lecture looking at how to analyse and change behaviours using ‘the installation theory’. The theory describes installations in which, even though humans are creatures of free will, they are induced to behave in an overall predictable and standardised manner. As behaviour in society is channelled by three types of determinants: material affordances, embodied competences and social regulation, this theory can offer a pragmatic framework for intervention.

Day two

Day two began with the third plenary lecture given by Professor Jennie Macdiarmid, University of Aberdeen, UK, discussing the impact of urbanisation and dietary habits on climate change and land use. Typically, the transition in dietary habits have a negative impact on both health and the environment as urban diets comprise more of animal-based products, sugar, fat and foods that are highly processed. These not only increase the risk of obesity and non-communicable disease but can significantly contribute to climate change through having a high environmental footprint.

Symposium three then explored current issues around urban food policy that target nutrition and health. Dr Jess Halliday, RUAF Global Partnership on Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems, UK, began by showing how integrated policies between different local government sectors can increase effectiveness of interventions and make best use of resources and capacity by sharing knowledge and understanding between professionals of different disciplines. Interventions developed in policy siloes, however, risk duplicating efforts, and are often counter-productive. Dr Alison Tedstone, Office of Health Improvement and Disparities, UK went on to discuss the current UK legislation around food advertising, highlighting that current policy only restricts a small percentage of advertising. Dr Tedstone explained the negative impact to the diets of children in the UK before touching on new legislative controls that will be brought into UK legislation at the end of 2022, designed to better protect children from exposure to advertisement of less healthy foods. M. Denis Darnand, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, France, concluded by showing some of the food policies and existing programmes to help tackle food insecurity in France, including free school breakfasts and social grocery schemes.

Dr Caroline Méjean, University Montpellier, France gave the final plenary of the conference looking at the relationship between the Urban Foodscape and diet and health outcomes. Dr Méjean noted that whilst research on the role of the foodscape in promoting healthy eating is continuously growing, fruit and vegetable consumption is by far the most common outcome used to assess eating behaviour and there is a need to look more closely at overall diet quality and reduce methodological limitations such as variability of food environment indicators and measures of foodscape exposure.

Consensus throughout the talks, debates and discussion was that given the concentration of resources and capital cities provide, they offer real innovation potential to overcome environmental and social challenges around food security and promotion of healthier diets. However, facing these challenges requires a multidisciplinary response that brings together a wide range of stakeholders to create integrated policies that provide successful solutions that engage with national and international frameworks.

Despite not being able to take place in person, delegates took advantage of social media and were able to continue discussion on Twitter using #ISN22