Sabina Ciorastenau Spotlights Naglaa El-Abaddi

By Sabina Ciorastenau, Travel Scholar and Speaker Ambassador at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting

During the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting at Stanford University, I had the true pleasure of being Dr. Naglaa H. El-Abbadi’s speaker ambassador. Given that my doctoral research is on sustainable diets in China and Dr. El-Abbadi has been working on sustainable dietary patterns for several years, it was very helpful to be mentored by her. Although we only spent a short time together at the conference, Naglaa acted as a true mentor and has inspired me to pursue a postdoc in sustainable development.

Since February 2019, Naglaa Hani El-Abbadi has been a postdoctoral research fellow at The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Before joining the research team at Tufts University, Dr. El-Abbadi completed a PhD in Nutritional Epidemiology at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her previous education includes a BSc in Biological Sciences from the University of California Irvine, and an MPH in Community Health Education from the University of California Los Angeles. Naglaa’s entire education background shows obvious commitment to health and nutrition research and to finding solutions to advancing planetary health.

In her current role as a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts’ Friedman School, Naglaa collaborates with Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg and Dr. Renata Micha. Her most recent research work revolves around the interlinkages between dietary patterns and environmental sustainability. In particular, her efforts center on identifying and analyzing food consumption patterns that promote human health via enhanced nutrition, while simultaneously ensuring environmental co-benefits. Moreover, her work also focuses on the role diets play in inflammation and immune function. Her research in the above-mentioned fields started during her doctoral programme, with her PhD dissertation focusing on assessing the sustainability level of various dietary patterns. In practical terms, Naglaa’s research, very much like my own PhD research, analyses what feasible dietary changes can be made so that nutritional diet quality is improved while, at the same time, there is no increase in the environmental footprint of these individual diets. For that purpose, she developed the Dietary Environmental Index (DEX) as a scoring system comprising estimates of the nutritional and environmental impact of an extensive number of foods eaten in the United States and employed to assess the sustainability level of existing and modeled dietary patterns.

Dr. El-Abbadi has been actively involved with the Planetary Health Alliance since its very beginning; she gave a very convincing speech at the inaugural 2017 PHA meeting on the development of the DEX, which emphasized the fascinating but complex relationship between dietary intake and health in the context of environmental effects. She has continued her collaboration with the PHA since: leading education working groups and becoming a mentor to three PhD candidates researching sustainable food consumption (including myself!) from across the world just this year. She is currently dedicating efforts to setting up a Planetary health nutrition, diets, and food systems themed working group within the PHA, with the purpose of bringing together a variety of researchers from different institutions, who are active in the same research field.

In the meantime, she is an active founding member of the Tufts Sustainable Diets Journal Club, which brings together students and faculty at monthly meetings with the goal of discussing the most recent research on sustainable diets. Participants aim to analyze papers which cover the diversity of areas within sustainability such as health and nutrition, environment, economics, but also culture and society. The club’s first meeting took place in October 2019 and was held as a video conference with Dr. Kate Clancy, who wrote the paper “Dietary Guidelines for Sustainability,” published in 1986 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and that Naglaa considers to be one of the foundational papers on the subject.

Dr. El-Abbadi’s most recent research includes a paper on the “Application of the Dietary Environmental Index to Model More Sustainable Versions of Food Intake Patterns Reported in the 2007–2008 NHANES (OR20–01–19),” that was published in June 2019 in the Current Developments in Nutrition journal, modeled how observed food choices can be adjusted, using equivalent food substitutions, in order to maximize nutritional diet quality and reduce its environmental impact. Another paper she co-authored, entitled “Linking sustainability to the healthy eating patterns of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: a modelling study,” was published in The Lancet Planetary Health in August 2018 and compared the potential environmental impact of three different dietary patterns — referred to as the healthy US-style, healthy Mediterranean-style, and healthy vegetarian — recommended in the 2015–20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.

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