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David Raubenheimer (University of Sydney, Australia) (virtual): Beyond empiricism: the need for framing and philosophy in nutrition science

22 November 2023 | 9 h 00 min - 10 h 30 min


The global crisis of obesity and other forms of malnutrition has continued to rise despite redoubled research effort and increasingly sophisticated technology for collecting, curating, and interrogating research data. This suggests nutrition science could benefit from fresh approaches to using data and directing empirical research. Considering the range, complexity, and interconnectedness of relevant factors, from chemistry and molecular biology to psychology, economics, and many sociological issues, in this talk I suggest more attention should be focussed on conceptual framing in nutrition and its research. I discuss a framework from nutritional ecology that draws on basic biological theory (ecology, evolution, and homeostasis), and show how it provides a systems perspective for tackling the complexity of nutrition. I illustrate its application, firstly, in tightly controlled experimental studies of captive insects, which provide confidence in causality, and thereafter in observational studies on wild primates, which establish that the biological mechanisms are relevant in ecological contexts. I next demonstrate how the findings from non-humans have helped direct the application of the nutritional ecology framework in human nutrition and led to a new understanding of obesity. Counter intuitively, this model situates protein as the key “difference maker”, rather than carbohydrates or fats. In the final section I show how the protein-centred view has, in turn, helped integrate more broadly across food systems, from biological signalling molecules to global sustainability. Along the way, I show how this nutritional program contacts issues relevant to philosophy, by raising questions that would benefit from philosophical analysis or exposing fertile empirical grounds for developing and testing questions of interest to philosophy.

David Raubenheimer is Leonard P. Ullman Chair in Nutritional Ecology at the Charles Perkins Centre, the University of Sydney, and explores how animal biology interacts with food environments via nutrition and the reciprocal influences of these interactions on biology.

David is a member of the PhilInBioMed Network.


22 November 2023
9 h 00 min - 10 h 30 min
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