Ethnography in Nutrition and Dietetics Research: A Systematic Review

Ella Ottrey, Jessica Jong, Judi Porter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Ethnography is a qualitative research approach used to learn about people and their culture. There is a need to explore the application and use of ethnographic methodology in nutrition and dietetics research to inform future research and practice. Our aim was to examine the extent, range, nature, and contribution of ethnographic methodology in nutrition and dietetics research. Eight electronic databases were searched using a defined search strategy until November 2017. No restrictions were placed on language, date, or study design of original research. Two authors independently assessed titles and abstracts, then full-text records, against inclusion criteria. Hand-searching of reviews identified in the database search was undertaken. Quality assessment was conducted using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist. Data were described narratively. A total of 2,185 records were identified, with 92 studies from public health nutrition (n=72), clinical nutrition (n=13), and foodservice (n=7) practice areas meeting inclusion criteria. Common research areas included infant/child feeding, food choice, diabetes, nutrition in schools and food insecurity. In addition to observation, frequently reported data collection techniques were interview (n=85), focus groups (n=17), and document analysis (n=10). Ethnographic research was most often reported from North America (n=31), Europe (n=16), and Australia/Oceania (n=13). This research approach was shown to inform dietetic research and practice by illuminating sociocultural factors that influence dietary beliefs and practices, practitioner training opportunities, evaluating nutrition education methods, informing programs and interventions, identifying nutrition policy and guideline focus areas, and the need for new approaches and communication strategies. Ethnography can increase understanding of complex food and nutrition–related health issues and their contributing factors across public health nutrition, foodservice, and clinical dietetic practice. It can be used to explain health inequalities, direct policy, and inform more effective intervention design and delivery. Wider uptake of this research approach as a stand-alone or complementary study design will advance efforts to improve health and wellbeing through food and nutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1903-1942.e10
Number of pages50
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • Dietetics
  • Ethnography
  • Nutrition
  • Practice
  • Systematic review

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