Course: Food and Nutrition Policy

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Course Description

The purpose of this course is to familiarize and engage the student in the steps and dynamics of policy making processes that address nutrition problems and issues. An underlying tenant is that, where ever nutrition problems exist, policy and program options may be enacted to address the problem directly (e.g. food subsidies to the poor) and/or indirectly (e.g. income generation or job creation).

For the purpose of this course nutrition and food policy is viewed as a specific set of decisions with related actions, established by a government and often supported by special legislation, which address a nutrition or food problem or set of problems. We realize that the lack of an explicit government policy may represent an implicit "hands off" policy; however, in this course we want to focus on explicit government policies.

Effective policies include actions that enable policy goals to be achieved, and therefore should include a means of translating policy decisions into effective programs. Policies that have not been realized through program implementation represent failures and should stimulate interest in understanding why the policies have remained barren. Good programs are the best measure of good policies, and we therefore include programs in our broad definition of policy.

Once a problem is defined with respect to "what, who, when, where and why," we then ask whether the problem requires or is amenable to a policy solution. If so, what are the best options? Who are the stakeholders? Who will support or resist the policy? Who pays for its implementation? What impact is expected? How is it evaluated?

Traditionally, nutritional policies have been realized through programs that deliver, enable access, or encourage consumption of food or supplements; obviously, problems associated with over-nutrition will require a different approach. Nutrition policies should be evidence-based and purposeful, aiming to meet nutritional needs; the same is not necessarily true of food policies, although they frequently will have nutritional effects. As background we discuss the evidence base of policies, but assuming the evidence base is sound, more important are:

i. the contexts (nutritional, political, economic, cultural, etc.) in which policies are developed,

ii. the processes and interaction of stakeholders which lead to policy decisions,

iii. the translation of policies into feasible programs,

iv. the evaluation of nutritional and other impacts (intended and unintended, positive and negative, measurable or not), and

v. an assessment of the forces which hinder or help the implementation of the policy.

We evaluate policies on the extent to which they meet these criteria. We recognize that implemented policies rarely play out so systematically, but we believe that these criteria are useful in understanding existing policies and designing new ones.

Course Objectives

After completion of this course, students will be able to:

i. identify food and nutrition problems amenable to policy intervention;

ii. define criteria of effective food or nutrition policies;

iii. critique a specific food and/or nutrition policy with respect to its evidence-base, adequacy of implementation, nutritional impact and forces which hinder or help the implementation of the specific policy.


There are no formal prerequisites for taking the course; however, students are expected to be familiar with the basic principles of nutrition. Students are strongly encouraged to broaden their reading in the subjects related to the nutritional problems and policies that are addressed in the course in order to fully participate in class discussions and in order to prepare a paper critiquing a specific food or nutrition policy.

Course Requirements

The following criteria will be used to grade students:

> Critical review of a food or nutrition policy (70%)

Students will be expected to write a brief paper that describes and critiques a food or nutrition policy that addresses a specific nutrition problem (see "Illustrative Topics" below).

Length: 7 pages, double spaced, 12 point font text. Additional tables, figures and references as required to support the basic thesis of the paper and to be referenced in the text.

Description: Prepare the critique as if you were being hired as a consultant to the Ministry or Secretary of Health or Agriculture. You are expected to summarize and critique, in a succinct, readable, expert and highly informative way, a food or nutrition policy that addresses a nutritional problem in a specific context (specific state, country, region).

Format: The paper should contain seven sections PLUS a one-paragraph Abstract/Executive Summary.

Abstract : A single paragraph summarizing your policy critique.

Nutritional Problem: briefly describe the nutritional problem being addressed by the policy - its extent, severity, health/nutritional consequences, risk group(s), geographical distribution.

Policy/Program : briefly describe the specific policy being reviewed.

Context: describe and critique the contexts in which the policy exists or is being developed - what are the cultural, economic, political, health/nutritional contexts; who are the policy-making or regulatory agencies? Who are the stakeholders? Who stands to gain/lose from the policy?

Processes: describe and critique the processes and dynamics by which the policy was or is to be formed.

Translation: critique how the policy is/was/should be translated into programs/actions.

Evaluation: assess how the policy is/was being evaluated.

Conclusions and Recommendations: Critique the strengths and limitations of the policy/program design, implementation and evaluation. Offer suggestions on what could be done to improve the policy's implementation and effectiveness.

References: Cite references in text using number in () and list in back of paper. References may include reports, scientific literature (e.g. using PubMed or other search engines), UN Agency survey reports, government, multi- and bi-lateral agency reports, as needed and required to support your paper. Materials obtained on the web should be cited in a format similar to journal articles, books, etc.

Note: Please be fully informed about, and adherent to, the School's Code of Ethics with respect to referencing the work of others. Plagiarism in anyway from any source, including web-based sources of information, for any portion of the term paper will not be tolerated.

> Attendance (10%)

We expect attendance at each class. If you are unable to attend the class, please email us and specify the class you are missing and your reason for missing the class.

> Participation in Class Discussion (20%)

We encourage your engagement and thoughtful participation in discussions during and outside of class hours.

> Student Presentations

We shall review your papers and select several for presentation and discussion on the last class session. If asked to make a presentation in class, relax and enjoy it - your presentation will NOT be graded. Specifically, we will ask you to present a brief overview of the nutritional problem or goal you addressed, the policy you selected to critique, and the key issues surrounding the policy's development and/or implementation. Finally, we'd like you to share any insights gained from your investigation that might address one of the following "angles" (or another angle of your choosing):

  • did the development and implementation proceed logically?
  • did this problem/policy reinforce a point discussed in class
  • did this problem/policy contradict a point discussed in class?
  • Did the problem/policy bring out a point not discussed in class?

We're looking for no more than a 10 minute presentation. No overhead or powerpoint slides are necessary, although a computer and projector will be available to you should you wish to present 4-5 slides.

Feel free to ask questions or prompt discussion among faculty and students as part of your presentation.

Course Format

The course will focus on a discrete number of US and developing country food and nutrition policies and programs. A lecture will be given on each topic by the course instructors or guest speakers. Handouts will comprise either PowerPoint slide handouts or lecture outlines. Students will be expected to have done the required readings prior to each lecture to participate fully in the discussions.