Philadelphia, January 25, 2023 – In continuing efforts by the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) to improve the health of individuals, communities, and food systems globally, the Society has updated the competencies that are essential for nutrition educators to be effective. The rationale and evidence-base for these competencies are presented in a position paper in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier, and includes the “what,” “why,” and “how to” for nutrition education professionals to ensure they are equipped to facilitate change.
“The White House Conference on Hunger, Health and Nutrition in September, as well as the keen interest in food as medicine, make adding competent nutrition educators to the workforce a public health priority,” says SNEB President Barbara Lohse, PhD, RD, CND. “SNEB utilized the expertise and experience of members, as well as evidence-based research, to develop competencies that will help employers, educators, and the public know that they are receiving nutrition information in a way that resonates with people and brings about lasting change for improved health.”
SNEB’s first set of competencies, published in 1987 for the academic preparation of nutrition education specialists, was based on the results from surveys of 929 state and local nutrition education coordinators and 65 academic institutions that trained nutrition educators. In the decades that followed, the important role of nutrition education in health promotion and disease prevention became even clearer as rates of diet-related chronic diseases increased.
“Advances in social and behavioral communication and nutrition education research, along with the ever-expanding scope of practice, prompted SNEB to continually update these competencies,” says Sarah Ash, PhD, Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC. “Incorporating these updated SNEB nutrition educator competencies into the training of nutrition educators, both new and in continuing education, will give them the knowledge and skills necessary to be relevant and effective in today’s dynamic and complex food and nutrition environment.”
The SNEB Nutrition Educator Competencies contain guidance on both the content and the processes to deliver nutrition education. It is crucial that nutrition educators have a thorough grounding in basic food and nutrition sciences and nutritional needs across the life cycle, as well as recognition of the complementary role of physical activity in promoting health. It is also crucial that nutrition educators understand the interactions among nutrients, foods, cultures, social determinants of health, and the food system—including agricultural practices—that form the basis of food guidance recommendations for the public and food policy.
In addition to a thorough grounding in food and nutrition-related content, nutrition educators need to understand that many factors are involved in motivating and facilitating behavior change and how nutrition education is designed, delivered, and evaluated. Given the rise in importance of communicating through various forms of technology-based media, nutrition educators are expected to be skilled in using these media for nutrition education as well, taking into account the cultural differences in how people communicate.
The updated set of 10 competency categories is freely available to download from the SNEB website.