Leveraging the power of nutrition educator competencies | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

Leveraging the power of nutrition educator competencies

Posted by: on Wednesday April 8, 2020 professor and students

One of the areas of work undertaken by SNEB members over the past several decades that most excites me is the development of professional competencies for nutrition educators.

Competence includes “knowledge, skills, abilities, and traits,” and is considered a key determinant of professional performance. Being the only professional organization focused solely on nutrition education — as a practice, as a rich area of scholarship and research, and as a focus for policy advocacy — it makes sense for SNEB to be a leader in the development of nutrition education competencies. Our highly relevant nutrition educator competencies provide a useful checklist for practitioners, academics making curricular decisions, and researchers evaluating program impacts domestically and globally. They reflect a consistent need to understand not only emerging science about diet and health and motivations and skills needed for behavior change but also the complex and intertwined influences that families, communities, food systems and policy on food decision-making. Further, they are consistent with SNEB’s mission, which calls on practitioners, researchers, academics, and advocates to promote equity and support public and planetary health.

The approach taken by SNEB to develop its professional competencies is consistent with how professional standards for public health nutrition were developed and, more recently, how Brazilian researchers identified objectives and competencies for food and nutrition education (FNE), as described in this issue. In the late 1970s, with support from a federal Nutrition Education and Training Program (NETP) grant and from the Society, Cal Poly conducted a survey of 900 SNE Higher Education Division members, California NETP coordinators, and nutrition education project directors. Early results from this and another survey of university programs informed the development of 27 competencies in five broad areas considered essential for effective food and nutrition education practice. By 2015, these early competencies had been revised to their current form; a report on the competencies was completed by Sarah Ash, Isobel Contento, Melissa D. Olfert, Pamela Koch; and member interest in, and potential benefits and costs of, credentialing to SNEB had been carefully documented.

Today, we enter a new phase in our competencies process. The Competency Taskforce, chaired by Sarah Colby and SNEB Board Director-at-Large Nurgul Fitzgerald, has laid out an ambitious strategy. First, plans are in the works to evaluate competency awareness, understanding and use among SNEB members. Second, a communication plan includes a competency-focused Journal Club series scheduled for this fall. Third, the taskforce will provide practice-based examples of how our competencies are being operationalized most effectively. A plan for ongoing competency review is being led by taskforce member and SNEB Vice President Jasia Steinmetz. Finally, a competencies position paper proposal will soon be considered by JNEB.

The breadth of SNEB’s competencies ensure that, through training, food, and nutrition, educators will facilitate food-related behaviors that “promote autonomous, healthy, and sustainable ways of living and eating,” the stated aims of FNE. I encourage members to become involved in development and promotion of our competencies, individually and through the Divisions to which you belong. I encourage the taskforce to consider emerging areas of importance, including cultural competence, food sovereignty and food justice. Finally, throughout the competencies process, efforts to develop a Nutrition Education Competency credentialing program — with SNEB serving as the accrediting organization — have ebbed and flowed. To me, SNEB is so well suited to be the credentialing body that we should renew this effort.

Jennifer Wilkins, PhD, RD
President, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior

This editorial was originally published in the April 2020 issue (Vol. 52, Issue 4) of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.