Food and Behaviour Research

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Jan-Feb 2013 - Feeding A Better Future - The Green Templeton College Lecture Series, Oxford

Green-Templeton College, Oxford

Web URL: View details of the GTC 2013 Lecture series here.

Start Date: 21 January 2013

End Date: 11 February 2013

Feeding a Better Future

The rising cost of food is impacting on people around the world, with up to 1 billion people, who live on the edge of poverty in 30 countries, at risk of hunger because of food shortages.

This lecture series explores the causes and impact of the global food crisis, covering food policy, malnutrition and the importance of diet and nutrition in healthy minds and bodies.

Venue: Tsuzuki Lecture Theatre, St Anne's College, Oxford.

Monday 21 January

One Billion Hungry: Can we Feed the World?

Speaker: Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College.

More than six decades after the Green Revolution aimed at ending world hunger, regular food shortages, malnutrition, and poverty still plague vast swaths of the world. And with increasing food prices, climate change, land and water resource degradation and inequality, and an ever-increasing global population, the future holds further challenges.

In a discussion of his new book, One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world?, Sir Gordon Conway, one of the world's foremost experts on global food needs, examines the many interrelated issues critical to our global food supply from the science of agricultural advances to the politics of food security, and outlines a development pathway towards ending endemic hunger which is sustainable and achievable.

Monday 28 January

The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health and Performance: Changing Diets, Changing Minds

Speaker: Dr Alex Richardson, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, University of Oxford; and Founder Director, FAB Research.

Human diets have changed dramatically over the last century, and the impact of industrialisation on our food supply has had devastating consequences for public health.  The detrimental effects of highly processed ‘junk food diets’ on physical health are well recognised, but far less attention has been paid to their consequences for mental health and wellbeing.

Abundant evidence now links modern, western-type diets – rich in highly processed, refined foods - not only to increased rates of ‘degenerative’ physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, obesity and Type II diabetes but also to a wide range of mental health disorders, including ADHD and autism, anxiety, depression, psychosis and dementia.  Developing countries adopting the same type of diet are now seeing a similar surge in physical and mental health problems to those already affecting the UK, US and other developed countries.  Diet is obviously only one of many factors contributing to these disturbing trends, but its impact can no longer be ignored.

The scale of the mental health ‘epidemic’ the world is now facing is immense.  A recent comprehensive study found that in any one year, 38% of the European population has a fully diagnosable psychiatric or neurological disorder.  The cost burden is equally enormous.  UK government figures showed that in 2007, the annual cost of mental health disorders was £77 billion, and by 2010, this had already risen to £105 billion.

This lecture will explore how our diets can and do affect our mental health and performance, taking a multi-disciplinary perspective that draws on evidence from epigenetics and neuroscience as well as epidemiological studies and clinical trials, and discussing its implications for research, policy and practice.

Monday 4 February

Food Democracy, Food Control and the Social Dimension of Modern Food Policy

Speaker: Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Centre for Food Policy, City University, London.

This lecture will focus on the politics and social fissures that cut across contemporary food policy concerns.

The 2007-08 commodity price spike enabled a mainly technical, production-oriented approach to future food to stake its claim in mainstream policy discourse. Critics propose that this 'productionism' marginalises and downplays the social dimension of food systems. Food is not just a matter of farming nutrients but is a matter of culture, meanings, aspirations, social justice. In that respect, modern food policy can be helped by an old distinction between needs and wants. Yet the late 20th century left a legacy of food systems supposedly shaped by consumerism and consumer demand.  In reality, so-called market economics are distorted and often dominated by increasingly powerful food corporations concerned with their market share more than the food system's sustainability or equitable distribution.

The lecture proposes that modern food policy debate is a new phase in an old tension between on the one hand what William Beveridge called Food Control and on the other hand Food Democracy, by which we mean the pursuit of a more equitable rights-based food system. While one offers a technocratic and managerialist approach to policy, the other now needs to focus on the policy mess caused by declining state influence, rising corporate power and mass consumption premised on a diet that is literally unsustainable in that it consumes excessive resources. The lecture concludes that, whatever the attractions of productionism, more attention is needed on the democratic questions of how to improve accountability, governance and societal not just individualised choices. Some reform is needed of food institutions, instruments and policy frameworks. The challenge of achieving a good food system (where populations eat sustainable diets fed by sustainable food supply chains) requires a strong societal ethos and the articulation of a more complex model of the public good than has been exhibited in national and international debate recently. If just some of the crises anticipated by food analysts come about, the debate about Food Control and Food Democracy is likely to move from academia to hard politics.

Monday 11 February 

Global Malnutrition: Can We Make A Difference?

Speaker: Professor Jeyakumar Henry, Director, Clinical Nutrition Sciences, Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences; Director, Functional Food Centre, Oxford Brookes University.

Global hunger affects nearly a billion people. The five major forms of malnutrition worldwide are: Protein-energy malnutrition, iron, iodine, zinc and vitamin A deficiencies. These deficiencies affect the mental, physical and emotional development of children and adults. They also impact on economic productivity.

Malnutrition has now been recognised as a significant contributor to infant mortality. The observation that malnutrition during pregnancy has a long term impact on the offspring, further reiterates the importance of understanding and preventing the root causes of undernutrition. This lecture will review some of the conventional and unconventional ideas developed to eradicate malnutrition. It will also examine how Britain's leadership role could transform the lives of millions suffering from hunger and disease.