Alumni Amar Laila Unravels the Complexities of Behavioral Nutrition

Posted on Monday, April 22nd, 2024

Amar Laila Headshot against grey wall.
Amar Laila

Stop Food Waste Day is a global initiative dedicated to raising awareness about food waste. This year, we are spotlighting Alumni Amar Laila, a graduate from University of Guelph in behavioral nutrition, showcasing his innovative approaches to addressing food waste. Through education and advocacy, the campaign empowers individuals and businesses to reduce waste and build a more sustainable food system.

In the realm of nutritional sciences, the path to discovery often winds through unexpected territories, revealing intersections between disciplines that profoundly shape our understanding of human behavior and health. For Amar Laila, this journey began with a spark of curiosity ignited during a research seminar on knowledge translation in his undergraduate years at the University of Guelph. Little did he know that this initial intrigue would propel him into the dynamic field of behavioral nutrition, where psychology, sociology, and nutrition converge to address fundamental questions about why we eat what we eat and how those choices impact our well-being. 

Laila's academic journey unfolded in a progression from undergraduate studies to a master's and ultimately completing a Ph.D. in Applied Human Nutrition in 2022. This led him to unravel the intricate tapestry of human eating behavior.  

“The fact that obesity, food insecurity, and food waste were all simultaneously connected, was completely mind-boggling to me in the beginning of my studies. How can these issues, which seem opposing, occur in the same area? This has led me to the career trajectory I am on. I want to pursue research, whether in academia or otherwise, to answer this question and how best to tackle these issues using interventions and policies, and in a way that’s equitable and environmentally sustainable.”  

This realization pushed him to explore the health aspects of nutrition and its sustainability implications, particularly focusing on food waste during his doctoral studies. 

The challenges and revelations encountered during his graduate studies were vital for Laila to understand the power of combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies to construct evidence-based narratives that resonate with diverse audiences. Through his investigations into nutrition and food waste behavior, he uncovered the myriad influences—cultural, environmental, and systemic—that shape individuals' food choices. 

Laila takes pride in his resilience, particularly navigating the disruptions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic during his doctoral studies. Amidst the upheaval, he adapted and persevered, successfully conducting a food waste intervention study that was published as a feature article in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 

Looking ahead, Laila remains steadfast in his commitment to advancing knowledge and action in behavioral nutrition. While his initial focus was on food waste, his aspirations have expanded to encompass a broader understanding of eating behavior and its societal implications. His goal is to inform policies and interventions that foster equitable, sustainable food systems—a mission fueled by his curiosity and dedication to making a difference. 

 Beyond his academic pursuits, Laila harbors a passion for languages—a testament to his eagerness to engage with diverse cultures and perspectives. He envisions leveraging these language skills to conduct comparative research on global food cultures, shedding light on the multifaceted attitudes towards healthy, sustainable eating across different nations. 

Laila now works as a post-doctoral fellow in the EAT-Lancet 2.0 Commission's Justice working group—a platform dedicated to fostering just and sustainable food systems globally. He continues to advocate for equitable and environmentally conscious approaches to addressing the interconnected challenges of obesity, food insecurity, and food waste. 

Hear more from Amar Laila on the Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast from Guelph Family Health Study, Episode 39 and Episode 61. 

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