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Food literacy as a multidimensional concept

Perry E, Thomas H, Samra H, Edmonstone S, Davidson L, Faulkner A, Petermann L, Manafo E, Kirkpatrick S. Identifying attributes of food literacy: A scoping review Public Health Nutrition. 2017; 20(13): 2406-2415.

Review question

      What are the attributes of food literacy as defined by existing research in the field?


      Non-communicable diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes, are among the leading causes of death globally.

      Contributing to these conditions are dietary risk factors, which are now recognized as the largest contributor to mortality both globally and in Canada.

      Increasing prevalence of large-scale food retail stores and fast-food outlets, combined with industrialization of the global food system, have contributed to the increasing accessibility of low-cost, energy-dense, and nutrient-poor foods and beverages.

      In recognition of this trend, increasing attention has been given to food literacy as a tool to influence eating patterns. Broadly speaking, food literacy highlights interconnectivity between food, health and the environment, while fostering a greater understanding of food beyond traditional nutrition recommendations and cookery lessons.

      Unfortunately, there exists significant variation in the definitions and characteristics associated with food literacy in the existing research. This variation makes it difficult to generalize and compare results across studies.

      The aim of this review is to characterize the attributes of food literacy as conceptualized by existing research in the field.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a detailed search of research databases for eligible studies published in English from 2005 to 2016. Key words included food, nutrition, skill, and literacy.

      Eligible articles were limited to research carried out in Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

      A total of 851 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 19 were included in this review. A manual search of additional unpublished research was conducted, which yielded 30 additional articles.

      One of the authors of the review is an Associate Editor for Public Health Nutrition. All remaining authors declare no conflict of interest.

What the researchers found

      Fifteen food literacy attributes and associated descriptors were identified from the peer-reviewed and grey literature. These were organized into five key themes or categories: food and nutrition knowledge, food skills, self-efficacy and confidence, ecological, and food decisions.

      Food and nutrition knowledge referred to attributes related to facts and information related to food and nutrition. Within this category, four attributes were identified: Food Knowledge, Nutrition Knowledge, Food Language, and Nutrition Language. Overall, food and nutrition knowledge referred to common knowledge of the variety of foods that exist, where they come from (including a connection to local food procurement), how food is produced, basic ingredients, and, to a lesser extent, rudimentary nutritional knowledge about the function of nutrients in the body.

      Food skills were defined as techniques of food purchasing, preparation, handling, and storage. Within this category were two attributes: Food Techniques and Food Skills.

      Within the category of self-efficacy and confidence were five attributes: Nutrition Literacy, Nutrition Self-Efficacy, Food Self-Efficacy, Cooking Self-Efficacy, and Food Attitude. Attributes in this category reflected an individual’s ability to perform in specific settings or situations, including overcoming obstacles to achieve a desired outcome.

      Ecological attributes underscored systems and influences that interact with food decisions and practices. Within this category were the attributes of Socio-Cultural Influences and Eating Practices, Food and Other Systems, and Infrastructure and Population-Level Determinants. These factors underscore the perception and understanding people have of food.

      Dietary Behaviour was the sole attribute under the category of food decisions, and is defined as the application of knowledge, information, and skills to make healthy food choices.


      In summary, food literacy is a complex phenomenon made up of multiple attributes.

      By conceptualizing these attributes, the results of this scoping review provide the foundation for the development of a measurement tool that can support the monitoring and evaluation of interventions to support food literacy.

Related Topics


Risk factors
Aspects making a condition more likely.
The body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart.

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