Contributing to our Health -- A Series About StFX Research Making A Difference In Our Communities
StFX is a leader in health innovation and entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia. In this ongoing series, we proudly shine a spotlight on our health research leaders, research and community health partnerships and their impact. For more on the Contributing to our Health series, click the link below.
Contributing to our Health series
“I would love to see dietitians used at the full scope of practice. It’s an underutilized discipline in healthcare. Dietitians can really be taking a lead in promoting health, managing systems and working with people.” ~ Dr. Ann Fox
Digesting a Pandemic: Exploring food and nutrition responses to COVID-19
Meet StFX human nutrition professor Dr. Ann Fox
Dr. Ann Fox is a dietitian and Chair of the StFX Department of Human Nutrition. She joined the StFX faculty in 2016, where she teaches courses in community and public health nutrition and focuses on community-based initiatives and supporting health professional practice. Among her current research projects, she’s investigating food and nutrition responses to the COVID-19 pandemic—and how important changes from this response can be implemented into the healthcare system.
Like many during the COVID-19 pandemic, dietitians in Nova Scotia saw their practice change almost overnight, with new learning and adapting happening sometimes daily. The emergency situation forced immediate changes, and in some instances, the changes proved positive.
Dr. Ann Fox, Chair of the StFX Department of Human Nutrition, is part of a group of dietetic leaders who joined together to explore the impact of COVID-19 on dietetic practice in Nova Scotia, and to help capture and catalyze some of the effective things to emerge.
Working with colleagues from StFX, Acadia and Mount St. Vincent Universities, as well as Nova Scotia Health and the Nova Scotia Department of Advanced Education, Dr. Fox has been studying how dietitians managed during the pandemic and how the pandemic impacted their practice.
“Are there some gold nuggets, some beneficial things, that should continue? What can we learn from this and use to help educate the next generation?” are questions the researchers focused on in their study, “Digesting a Pandemic: Exploring Food and Nutrition Responses to the COVID-19 Outbreak,” funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Engage Grant.
Dr. Fox says the group surveyed dietitians and followed up with individual and group interviews. An interesting finding to emerge is that many people found their practice stimulating as they had opportunity to learn new things and suddenly had new networks online with colleagues across the country and around the world, collaborating in ways they hadn’t before.
Dietitians working in some COVID-19 units, for example, had daily huddles to talk about the latest research in nutrition, she says. For many people used to working in a world where continuing education opportunities had fallen off budgets, it introduced a new opportunity for learning.
Dietitians also learned they had a deep skillset to draw upon. Dr. Fox says for instance, dietitians working in long-term care realized they held a wealth of expertise in infection control due to their work in safe food handling and were subsequently asked and were able to translate those skills into other areas.
Dr. Fox and the research group will present their findings at the Canadian Dietetic Conference happening in Montreal in May. They have written papers currently in submission to health journals. And they are sharing findings with policymakers to help implement change.
“I would love to see dietitians used at the full scope of practice,” says Dr. Fox.
“It’s an underutilized discipline in health care. Dietitians can really be taking a lead in managing and working with people.”
She says she would like to see more dietitians in the province and as well as increased responsibility for dietitians.
“Everything is right here, ready to go,” she says.
“StFX is contributing to the training of these young people to step into these evolving roles.”
LAND2LAB AND ARTS AND HEALTH
Among her other research interests, Dr. Fox worked with a Dalhousie University graduate student Renée Bujold, and StFX graduate Kara Pictou on an Indigenous Food Sovereignty initiative. The project, Land2Lab, brought together Mi’kmaw Elders and youth to share knowledge and skills related to Mi’kmaw foodways. In her commitment to learning about and supporting Indigenous ways of knowing, Dr. Fox has incorporated findings from this project into her community work and teaching.
Additionally, Dr. Fox works in partnership with Arts Health Antigonish to understand the impact of arts programming on community health and wellness, particularly for those who may not have ready access to the arts.
Dr. Fox was a practicing dietitian when she made a midlife shift into academia.
As a frontline dietitian, she says she was always curious to understand why something worked and why it didn’t. She felt the best way to explore this curiosity was through academia, but in an applied way. Top of mind in her work is asking questions around impacts for people in the community.
Dr. Fox, who will participate in a Visiting Fellowship to Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia in 2024 to work and share with colleagues there, says she was always drawn to food and to the connection between food and health.
“Food is never just food. It’s symbolic, it’s sustenance, social, cultural, economic, religious. It’s layered with so much meaning. It’s so basic, but it’s complicated with so many dimensions. It’s fascinating.”
Dr. Fox says one of the things she likes best about being a part of the StFX and local community is how easy it is to connect and to feel a sense of community.
As for something unexpected about her? “I do improv! I got hooked through local classes. That’s my creative outlet.”