Are we closer to international consensus on the term ‘food literacy’? A systematic scoping review of its use in the academic literature

Thompson, C., Adams, J., & Vidgen, H.A.



While many aspects of the food system, such as availability, accessibility, price and affordability, have been explored and evaluated, there is a limited understanding of the relationship between these factors and people’s food acquisition and consumption. Therefore, the term ‘food literacy’ emerged as the everyday skills, behaviour and knowledge needed by individuals to navigate the food environment and meet their nutrition and health needs. The term has gained momentum globally, however, a lack of clarity around its definition has resulted in inconsistencies in use of the term.


The objectives were to conduct a systematic scoping review to describe the use, reach, application and definitions of the term ‘food literacy’ over time.


A search was conducted using the PRISMA-ScR guidelines in seven research databases without any date limitations up to 31 December 2019, searching simply for use of the term ‘food literacy’.


Five hundred and forty-nine studies were included. The term ‘food literacy’ was used once in 243 articles (44%) and mentioned by researchers working in 41 countries. Original research was the most common article type (n = 429, 78%). Food literacy was published across 72 In Cites disciplines, with 456 (83%) articles from the last 5 years. In articles about food literacy (n = 82, 15%), review articles were twice as prevalent compared to the total number of articles (n = 10, 12% vs. n = 32, 6%). Fifty-one different definitions of food literacy were cited.


‘Food literacy’ has been used frequently and broadly across differing article types and disciplines in academic literature internationally. However, agreement on a standardised definition of food literacy endorsed by a peak international agency is needed in order to progress the field. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has identified consumer behaviours as a driver of the food system; however, there have been no measures reported for assessing food acquisition, preparation, meal practices and storage: all key components of food literacy. Therefore, the development of measures to assess components of the food system also relies on progressing international consensus and indicators.


Thompson, C., Adams, J., & Vidgen, H.A. (2021, July 17). Are we closer to international consensus on the term ‘food literacy’? A systematic scoping review of its use in the academic literature. In 7th Need For Nutrition Education/Innovation Programme (NNedPro) International Summit.


Dr Courtney Stewart (RNutr, FHEA)

BNutrSc, BBiomedSc(Hons), PhD
Director, NPR Consulting

Join our mailing list for monthly health and nutrition insights