The emergence and use of the term ‘food literacy’: a scoping review

Thompson, C. & Vidgen, H.A.



The term ‘food literacy’ emerged to address the skills, behaviour and knowledge needed by individuals to navigate the complex food environment and meet day-to-day food needs. Despite extensive publications and use of the term in the past 20 years, little has been done to track the progression of the concept over time. Therefore, this study aimed to describe the change in the use and reach of the term ‘food literacy’ over time and analyse the context and outcomes of academic papers with respect to the year of publication.


A scoping review was conducted using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, across several databases (PubMed, ScienceDirect, Embase, Scopus, EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Google Scholar), using the term ‘food literacy’. Papers were reviewed, and those which were i) not in English, ii) grey literature iii) did not mention the term ‘food literacy’ or iv) had no full-text available were removed. The year, country, context and outcomes of the publication were extracted and compared.


436 academic papers were extracted from the literature. The first journal article which included the term ‘food literacy’ appeared in 1998, with the literature steadily increasing over time, with 108 journal articles published in 2018. The term has been published in academic literature across 37 countries, with the highest number of publications in Australia (109), followed by Canada (89), United States (85), United Kingdom (31) and Italy (13). The context of publications on food literacy tend to take a health and environmental frame.


This review found that the concept of food literacy has transitioned from primarily future research recommendations to defining and conceptualising, measuring and more recently, investigating proposed relationships between food literacy and diet quality. Additionally, the relevance of the term indicates that harmonisation of measurement and cross-country comparison of food literacy may be possible, which could assist in improving health and nutrition by addressing food literacy in a multi-tiered approach, world-wide.


Thompson, C. & Vidgen, H.A. (2020, June 15-25). The emergence and use of the term ‘food literacy’: a scoping review. In International Society of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity (ISBNPA) XChange Initiative Conference.

Dr Courtney Stewart (RNutr, FHEA)

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

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