March 28, 2017, by sustainablenottingham

Health, Food and the Environment: what do healthcare students need to know?

Dr Linda East, Associate Professor in the School of Health Sciences, reports on a tasty workshop for healthcare students.

Health care educators have long been interested in the social and environmental determinants of health and well-being. In recent years, a growing understanding of the links between climate change and health has led to the establishment of local and national networks campaigning on this issue. Such links are being fostered by Medact, a national charity that aims to encourage the health community to become effective and progressive social change agents. Medact have been working on a project to ‘mainstream’ education related to health, food and the environment in undergraduate healthcare degree programmes. A grant from the University’s Environment Initiative Fund (EIF) and funding from Medact has provided an excellent opportunity to do some work on food, health and sustainability here in Nottingham.

Veggies' information stall

Veggies’ information stall

Dr Linda East was awarded EIF funding in October 2016, and convened a steering group to plan a workshop, including colleagues from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (Kirsty Hyndes and Pearl Pugh) and a representative of the student society, Medsin (Genevieve Elliott). Our aim was to gather together interested stakeholders from the Nottingham area, including businesses, community groups and our own students. Our planning culminated in an evening event in the Medical School on March 7th, 2017.  We began with a talk from Liz Atherton of Medact, who gave a global overview of the devastating impact of contemporary food systems on our planet and on human health. Liz explained that a more sustainable diet is also a healthy diet, and that what is good for the planet is good for us. These are the principles we should be working towards in the food we eat:

  • Diversity – a wide variety of food eaten
  • Balance achieved between energy intake and energy needs
  • Based around minimally processed tubers and wholegrains; legumes; fruit and vegetables – particularly those that are field grown (more robust, not air freighted and require less energy to grow)
  • Meat, if eaten, in moderate quantities – and all animal parts consumed
  • Dairy products or alternatives eaten in moderation
  • Unsalted seeds and nuts
  • Small quantities of fish and aquatic products sourced from certified sources
  • Very limited consumption of foods high in fat, sugar or salt and low in micronutrients
  • Oils & fats with a beneficial Omega 3:6 ratio such as rapeseed and olive oil
  • Tap water in preference to other beverages – particularly soft drinks

Our second talk came from Helen Ross, Chair of the National Sustainable Development Special Interest Group for the Faculty of Public Health. Helen gave us an insight into the great food, health and environment work that is going on in Nottingham, and explained that Nottingham is working towards becoming a Sustainable Food City. The Sustainable Food Cities approach involves developing a partnership of local public agencies, businesses, academics and non-governmental organisations committed to working together to make healthy and sustainable food a defining characteristic of where they live. This approach helps people and places to share challenges, explore practical solutions and develop best practice on key food issues.

Vegan buffet

100% vegan buffet

Although the audience for the Liz and Helen’s talks was quite small, those attending held a lively discussion on the value of learning about health, food and the environment for students across the university. The small group was soon augmented by a troop of medical students coming out of a late lecture. They were delighted to join in with the amazing buffet supper provided by the University’s catering service. One of the key messages in relation to food and sustainability is ‘eat less meat and cut down on dairy’: the 100% vegan feast proved how tasty plant-based eating can be. Students then browsed the stalls set up in the Medical School Foyer by local community groups, including The Nottingham Growing Network, Veggies and the Make Believe Collective (Food for Thought). In addition to Medsin, students from the Sustainability Society and VegSoc supported the event and exchanged information and ideas. Using flip charts and post-its, students, staff and community groups shared their thoughts on teaching and learning related to food and the environment.

The overall conclusion is that teaching on health, food and the environment should be embedded in education for healthcare students and students across the university. This should take place within the formal curriculum, but might also be integrated with more practical activities such as cooking workshops and developing a ‘good food guide’ for students. Healthcare students want to be able to work with clients to promote healthy, healing diets; they also want to live and learn in a health-promoting environment themselves.

Going forward, the event has brought together students, staff, community groups and campaigning organisations. Although they were unable to attend the event, we also made contact with the food producer ‘Quorn’ and Nottingham University Hospitals caterers, Elior. We have built a network that will contribute to Nottingham’s Sustainable Food City project, and we will continue to work together to develop inspirational activities and resources for teaching and learning.

Our thanks go to the Medact, the University’s Environment Initiatives Fund, and to everyone who supported the event and made it such an enjoyable evening.

Posted in Studentsteaching and learning