Eating is no longer the only way to experience food. Cooking shows, food blogs, and bestselling books, and also new foods, nutrition concepts, and marketing promises have made nutrition into a kind of pop culture.
To ensure that consumers do not lose sight of the big picture, it is becoming increasingly important to translate research results relevant to health and nutrition in a way that is appropriate for the target group. That is one of the goals of the Halle-Jena-Leipzig Competence Cluster for Nutrition and Cardiovascular Health (nutriCARD), Germany.
“How food can heal”…”Vegans live longer”…”Sugar makes you ill”– dietary topics can be found daily in all journalistic media, from news outlets to weekly magazines to the local paper. On TV, radio, in print and on the Internet, journalists report about food, types of nutrition, and diets in the news—sometimes more or less critical, sometimes euphoric, sometimes objective. The interest of a broad audience is always certain, and “that is precisely the problem; there is a lot of contradictory information that can cause uncertainty among consumers,” says Dr. Tobias D. Höhn of the Institute for Communication and Media Science at the University of Leipzig, who is head of the communications office of the Competence Cluster.
For the first time, nutriCARD will use its “Media Doctor for Nutrition” to critically illuminate reporting regularly and according to defined quality criteria. “We would like to sensitize journalists, media companies, and additionally consumers about what the reporting on nutrition depends on, where the pitfalls lie, and which information is really important for consumers—especially when science and research are involved and the reports are supposed to be particularly serious and reliable,” says Höhn.
However, it is not just traditional mass media that is relevant to the research field of nutrition communication, but also social media such as expert and lay communication (i.e. doctor-patient discussions or visits to nutritionists) and, of course, discussions with friends and colleagues. “Where, when, with whom, what and how people eat is reflected in society’s heterogeneity. Globalization, changing lifestyles and constantly changing conditions make everyday nutrition increasingly complex,” says nutriCARD spokesman Prof. Dr. Stefan Lorkowski of the University of Jena. “The increased media attention given to the topic of nutrition is unfortunately not growing at the same rate as healthy and sustainable diets.”
nutriCARD media researcher Höhn says, “We need clear messages aimed at individual target groups in order to be able to achieve a process of understanding for society as a whole – and to break through the thicket of information and sensory overload.” In order to achieve this, the methodology of nutrition communication must first be further researched.
nutriCARD uses a multi-perspective approach. In a professional field study, journalists who regularly report on nutrition will be interviewed. Food bloggers, some with several thousand followers, will also be integrated into the study as communication intermediaries. And last but not least, it is also a question of tracing information paths. “The path from scientific results via press releases and journalistic reporting to public discussion is intertwined and therefore extremely exciting, also because information cycles no longer follow a linear structure due to digitalization,” says Höhn. Especially in science communication, individuals are increasingly among the players in public discourse. “If we shed light on this, it will be an important step towards a more enlightened public. Then everyone can decide for themselves whether food can really heal.”
The Competence Cluster for Nutrition and Cardiovascular Health (nutriCARD) combines activities in the field of basic and applied nutrition research at the universities of Jena, Leipzig and Halle-Wittenberg, which collaborate within the Central German University Association. nutriCARD is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Approximately 40 scientists and 80 practice partners work on the development of efficient concepts for the sustainable prevention of cardiovascular diseases (the number one cause of death in Germany and Europe). Nutrition communication and education is an essential component of this.