Top nutrition scientist returns home for new role

Dr Barbara Burlingame speaking during an FAO seminar on nutrition and environmental sustainability, as part of the preparations for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), in November 2014. Photo credit: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto

One of the world’s leading nutrition specialists, Barbara Burlingame, has been appointed to Massey University to help advance public health nutrition and food systems knowledge. The role is a joint appointment between the School of Public Health and the School of Food and Nutrition to enhance Massey’s profile internationally in nutritional and health sciences.

Dr Burlingame, originally from Boston, holds a PhD from Massey and undergraduate degrees from University of California, Davis, in Nutrition science and environmental toxicology. She has spent the past 16 years based in Rome, working for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, including the last four as Deputy Director of the Nutrition Division.

Dr Burlingame, a dual national of New Zealand and the United States, says as the prevalence of communicable diseases diminishes, the burden of non-communicable diseases has rapidly risen, and most are diet-related. “Public health should refocus some of its attention on food production and consumption, sustainable food systems sustainable diets and the right to food, along with its long-standing focus on obesity and diet-related chronic diseases, under-nourishment and micronutrient malnutrition.” 

Her vision for public health in the 21st century involves embracing the agenda of sustainable development. “Within this framework, public health is as much an agriculture and environment sector topic as it is a health sector topic.

The consensus of Rio+20 and the subsequent negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda is that human health cannot be separated from environmental health.  Integrating health, agriculture and environment sector issues, particularly at the policy level, is part of the deeper challenge, and ideally needs to be part of public health education.”

College of Health Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul McDonald says Dr Burlingame is one of the world’s most influential nutritionists. “She has shaped nutrition policy at the very highest international levels and is a leader within her field. Her work on sustainable diets and traditional food systems for indigenous people fits well with Massey’s vision for shaping public health. I am delighted to welcome Barbara on board.”

Professor Burlingame commences her appointment on January 18, based in Wellington.

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