Nutrition in a Digital World Webinar Series

In July 2020, UNSCN published the 45th issue of its flagship publication, UNSCN Nutrition, which examines the potential and complexity of the digital world for improved nutrition. Digital technology, in and of itself, cannot fix the world’s food and nutrition problems, nor mend its dysfunctional food systems. However, once improving nutrition is deemed a priority, digital technologies offer important tools to progress action. The potential of digital technologies to improve nutrition is phenomenal, but so too are the risks that these technologies might entail.

The publication was positively received by the global nutrition community and shared with more than 6,000 people around the globe. The wide range of articles provides unique insights into how digital technologies are being utilized across different elements of the food systems to improve diets and nutrition. It also examines the potential-risk duality in a range of food-system perspectives– from food production, transformation and distribution to digital food marketing and retail; from behavioural change and capacity-building, including through social media, to the generation, processing and use of data; and from the protection of vulnerable groups to issues of inequality and human rights.

Based on the positive reception of the publication, UNSCN organized a webinar series titled “Nutrition in a Digital World” to amplify the key messages and findings. The webinar series was comprised of four thematic sessions that took place over the months of November and December 2020. For each of the four episodes a panel of experts, all authors of articles published in UNSCN Nutrition 45 and representing different stakeholders’ groups, were invited to share their insights with the aim of promoting dialogue and digging deeper into different aspects of this interesting topic. 

Episode one addressed “The challenges of digital food marketing” with panelists exploring the food industries use of artificial Intelligence to influence consumers behavior; CLICK- an innovative approach to comprehensively map the digital marketing ecosystem; and the risks associated with digital food marketing and how to ensure digital technologies are used to support healthy and sustainable diets and the establishment of an International Platform for ​Digital Food and Agriculture​.

Episode two focused on “The opportunities and risks of digital technologies in nutrition behavior change and capacity building”. Panelists explored mNutrition programmes, how social media could be used to promote food and nutrition related behavioral change; Anganwadi Shiksha an e-Learning platform used to train font-line nutrition workers in India; and challenges related to social media, such as the commercialization of health products/programmes and the dissemination of misinformation.

Episode 3 examined “Digital solutions for data driven decision making, to help improve nutrition of vulnerable groups and to address inequalities”. Panelists presented examples of the use and potential of digital technologies to improve food security in Zimbabwe; a Kenyan pilot study to monitor community health and nutrition status; an innovative app to address food insecurity through food salvaging; the ‘Count Me In’ app which supports inclusion and quality nutrition care for children; and transforming nutrition goals into nutrition rights using the example of the ICDS pilot study in India.

Episode four completed the series by looking at “Digital solutions for nutrition sensitive programming”. Panellists provided insights into great examples on innovative digital solutions such as WFP’s PLUS School Menus tool, HarvestPlus’s digital tools to expand the reach of biofortified foods and FAO’s work to strengthen capacity of universities and small and medium sized farms to promote nutrition-sensitive food systems. The session also looked at the many ways in which digital technology can boost agricultural output, improve the food environments and reduce malnutrition in Africa.

The final presentation of the series looked into digital cooperation in food and agriculture and the potential of multi-stakeholder initiatives to bring people together and exchange knowledge and best practices. The great potential; diversity of initiatives; ongoing challenges; and depth of knowledge in digital nutrition led to a call for UN Nutrition to continue work in this area through the establishment of a community of practice on digital nutrition.

Recordings of the complete webinar series can be found on the UNSCN website.

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