Congress of the World Public Health Nutrition Association with
Abrasco (the Brazilian Association of Collective Health)
to be held in Rio de Janeiro, 27-30 April 2012

Countdown to our Rio2012 congress begins now

Spirals forms from all over the world inspire the dedicated teams who are working on our Rio2012 congress. The final countdown begins right now

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The final countdown to our Rio2012 congress, held in partnership with the leading national Brazilian public health organisation Abrasco, begins now. We will be bringing you more news every month from now on. Please keep in touch with all developments by accessing the congress's own website.

One of the special features of our congress is interactivity. This is in keeping with Brazil's special reputation for participatory democracy. We see everybody who is coming to Rio as participants. A second special feature is independence. Our congress is supported solely from registration fees, with public funds such as from the Brazilian government and its agencies, and our hosts the State University of Rio de Janeiro, and from other non-conflicted sources. This, we believe, is the congress that our world has been waiting for.

Our spiral symbol

The symbol of our congress is the spiral, the ultimate organic shape. Above are five found in different parts of the world: from the left, ferns from Australia, a sales sign for the Amazonian fruit açaí in Recife; a graffito in Valparaiso, world-famous for its street art; a temple painting in Seoul; and most apt now, a space-ship taking off in the Santa Teresa district of Rio. On the home page of this story, from the left, are reflections of wrought iron railings in Minas Gerais; a snail – symbol also of the Slow Food movement – in Valparaiso; street art also in Valparaiso; another Korean temple painting; and the famous spiral bowls made by Kwa-Zulu women in South Africa.

Below is the banner (poster) of our congress. We have shown it before and here it is again, together with a shortened version of the story of its creation in Rio last spring which follows here.

The 'Brazilian' spirals shown in our banner were all created by a special group of volunteers and a professional designer in Rio. They were inspired by the 'original' spiral, designed in 2005 by the Beijing calligrapher Ying Huang Bi. The story begins almost a decade ago.

The New Nutrition Science began as a project in 2003, supported by successive presidents of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences Mark Wahlqvist (2001-2005), Ricardo Uauy (2005-2009), and Ibrahim Elmadfa (2009-2113). Its mission is to shape nutrition as a discipline and profession that is fit to face the circumstances of this century. Its basic idea, as expressed in its founding document The Giessen Declaration, is that nutrition is a biological and also a social, economic, and environmental science, with all this implies. The 23 signatories of the Declaration include Ibrahim Elmadfa and Mark Wahlqvist, Association president Barrie Margetts, Association members Michael Krawinkel, Joan Sabaté, Prakash Shetty and Esté Vorster, and the New Nutrition Science co-convenors Geoffrey Cannon and Claus Leitzmann.

As agreed at a workshop meeting held at the University of Giessen in April 2005, and stated in the Declaration: 'All sciences and all organised human activities are and should be guided by general principles. These should enable information and evidence to be translated into relevant, useful, sustainable and beneficial policies and programmes. The overall principles that should guide nutrition science are ethical in nature. All principles should also be guided by the philosophies of co-responsibility and sustainability, by the life-course and human rights approaches, and by understanding of evolution, history and ecology'.

The spiral becomes Brazilian

The Rio2012 organisers from the Association and from Abrasco came to much the same conclusion as the convenors of the New Nutrition Science project. Most conventional science is conceptually linear, 'straight arrow'. It depends on facts: assemblies of bits of information in the form of data shaped according to pre-set rules. It is conducted on the assumption that the new replaces the old, and that the results of the latest studies, typically ever-increasingly complicated and expensive, make previous results redundant. Further, human constructs are based on straight lines, as anybody sitting in a room or looking at a building can see. Specially designed curved shapes are, like plants, usually there just for decoration.

In all its work and throughout the congress, Rio2012 does and will respect facts, but what will come first are ideas. An observation that guides the planning of our congress is that in nature, nothing is in the form of a straight line. Further, a study of human history shows that progress is not linear but cyclical. Despite developments in technology, we constantly come back to where we were before. If we have made progress, we will have expanded our knowledge and wisdom. Growth in nature and often in art is shown as the spiral form.

In nature, the spiral shape obeys laws of proportion, which now guide systems thinking, essential in all transdisciplinary work. Systems analysis is essential in addressing 'big picture' issues, such as: 'How can the activities of transnational food companies be reconciled with nutritional health, and in turn support the sustenance of the living and physical worlds throughout this century?' Progress in systems thinking is made by a spiral process of planning, action, evaluation, then enhanced planning, action, evaluation… and so on.

So the challenge that the Rio2012 Brazilian congress operations team gave themselves in March and April last year, was to turn these concepts and the original spiral icon, into Brazilian realities. The aim was to assemble a set of spirals each and all resonant of Brazilian ethnic and cultural diversity. Four themes were agreed: food, people, nature and culture. You see the results above in our banner, conveyed most beautifully by the centre image of clasped hands.


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