The Nutritional Pavillion

Last year I got involved with the Creative Reactions project (initiated by Pints Of Science). I had been wanting to work with a scientist on a piece of artwork for years and thought this would be a great way to start. I was paired up with Laura Johnson, a senior lecturer in public health and epidemiology at Bristol University. After reading her research and interviewing her I started to get an idea of how Laura related to her work, what drove her, and I started to see similarities with how I work.

One of the things that Laura said to me was that it is hard to convey the complexity of nutrition to people, it’s not just about eating enough fruit and vegetables, although that is key. There are many other factors that influence it. Laura showed me a poster that she had on the wall that explained how the different factors all intertwined and in talking me through it she mentioned the four pillars of nutrition.

As soon as Laura had mentioned pillars I started to imagine a pavilion or pagoda, something like the architectural competition pieces you see beside the Serpentine in London.

The four pillars are:

  • What you eat
  • How much of it you eat
  • How often you eat it
  • The time of day you eat it

I represented these with four different types of stone: Alpine Jade, Lotus Onyx, Mendip hard limestone, A Cararra marble.

Weaving through those are all the other factors in your life, where you live, how far you have to travel to work and how you do that, your family and support networks, civil status, age, education. All of those things then work their way in and out of the four pillars and very quickly you begin to realise how complicated it gets and why it is so hard for people to change their diet and nutrition. For example it doesn’t matter how many salads you eat in the evening if you always have lunch in the factory canteen that sells terrible food and you can’t make yourself a pack lunch because by the time you’ve got your 3 kids out of the door in time for the school bus you’re late for work and your partner left at 6 in time to get to work themselves!!! You grab what you can!! And once you take your pavilion and attach it to someone else’s those factors start to affect and influence yours and also make it hard to change habits.

I placed a figure in the middle looking up at it all, trying to make sense of it. Imagine if you could look up at your four pillars and see how all the factors in your life affect your nutritional out look. I was so pleased that Laura liked what I produced and I started to think about how putting it all together had helped me really grasp what Laura was trying to communicate to people. I suggested that I adapt it into a teaching aid and the University commissioned four more that could be used during practical teaching sessions. Apparently it went down well and the students really enjoyed it, sparking a number of conversations about the complexity of nutrition and public health.  Result!!

Laura also took one of the pavilions to the Adolescent Health Symposium at the University of Malaya (Malaysia) and it was well received there too. I have plans to make a few more of these and make them available for health professional and those teaching nutrition so fingers crossed on that.

The teaching version on display in Malaysia
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