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Climate Change and Dietary Decisions: Lori Spruance Named Fulbright Scholar

You’ve likely admitted to yourself that munching on baby carrots would be better for your health than snacking on a bag of Doritos. But have you ever considered how that switch could affect the health of the planet?

“Oftentimes, we think the climate change solution is not taking your car as often,” says Dr. Lori Spruance, BYU associate professor of public health. “There are obviously many ways of attacking this problem, but we don’t often think of dietary changes as a potential way.”

Spruance began exploring this theory when she collaborated with one of her PhD mentors on a project. “I was really interested in . . . the connection between food intake and greenhouse gas emissions,” she explains. “How can we potentially mitigate or help with climate change based on dietary decisions?”

Armed with this innovative idea and a desire to investigate it internationally, Spruance applied for and was chosen to be a 2023–2024 Fulbright Scholar. She will use this grant to expand her research to Australia.

A light-skinned woman wearing a black blouse and a short necklace with circle-shaped gems smiles. The woman has brown eyes and dark brown hair that reaches a few inches past her shoulders.
“How can we potentially mitigate or help with climate change based on dietary decisions?” Spruance asks.
Photo by BYU Photo

Researching School Nutrition

Spruance researches the nutrition of school-aged children in countries with a general overabundance of food. After reading studies on how adults’ diets may impact the climate and seeing simulations that illuminate the effect of replacing a percentage of fatty red meat with leaner meat in a person’s diet, Spruance wanted to extend the research to children. “Kids probably face the same dietary concerns related to greenhouse gas emissions [that adults do], like high intake of red meat and meat in general,” she reasons.

And so, school cafeterias became her testing grounds. “A good chunk of the students already receive a school meal,” Spruance explains. “If you just swapped out hamburgers for ground turkey burgers, what could that potentially do?” Spruance and her team are searching for dietary substitutions that will make a difference to the climate while remaining palatable to consumers.

Becoming a Fulbright Scholar

“Climate change is a global issue,” Spruance notes—and research on global issues is important to take worldwide. Last August, Spruance attended a seminar on the Fulbright Scholar Program, a program that enables an international exchange of education and ideas by providing travel grants for teachers, students, and professionals. Already wanting to spent time researching abroad, she quickly decided, “I’m just gonna go for this.”

Spruance chose to apply for a grant to Australia because of the country’s similarities to the US and its lack of research on climate change and school nutrition. She connected with Dr. Sue Williams, a professor in Queensland, Australia, and pitched her idea. The two collaborated on the project for the Fulbright application and celebrated when Spruance was named a Fulbright Scholar.

Looking to Australia

Next winter, Spruance will travel to Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia, to implement her research project on school nutrition and climate change. She is eager to work alongside professionals with new perspectives and backgrounds. “I think that’s what’s really cool about the Fulbright Program—it's this collaborative relationship,” she says. “I have things to offer, but of course they have lots of things to offer me too.”

Through their collaboration, Spruance and her team will hopefully find “recommendations for ways to modify or change diets that both improve health and improve the climate” in Australia, in the US, and across the globe.

"The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship."
Senator J. William Fulbright, founder of the Fulbright program