DC Reflections

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January 14, 2013 by catherinecoughlin

My overall reflection on the trip to DC can be aptly described by the following song lyrics:
I set out on a great adventure
The day [UNC led me to DC]
They said there’s gonna be some mountains to climb
And some valleys we’re gonna go through
But I had no way of knowing
Just how hard this journey could be
Cause the valleys are deeper
And the mountains are steeper than I ever would have dreamed

DC was a reality wake-up call that the issues we as public health nutritionists will face in the real world will not come in easily addressed, ribbon-tied packages. I was both intrigued and overwhelmed by the conflict of interest, need for compromise, and constant battle over policy changes. It seems exhausting. There was a lot more this,

grip

And a lot less this,

shake

than one might hope.

I think I was most frustrated by the fact that throughout all the panel discussions, where everyone was a representative of the field of nutrition, I continued to wonder, “Who are you aiming to please?” Is it a political party? An industry group? The general public? The fiscal budget? Not everyone in nutrition is working towards the same goal, but everyone wants his or her own interests appeased, so it seems like progress is frustratingly slow. (As Sarah referenced in her post, the process seems to be expedited when a “celebrity” endorses it. Similar to Sarah’s point, this concerns me in that it raises question over whether we are going to let celebrities start dictating what policies are approved in our country. Is that really the best solution?). As it stands, the policy process allows for constant discussion, comments, and revising, making it seem difficult to get anything done. Do I personally have the solution? Absolutely not. But this post is a reflection of my thoughts, and I continued to get an overwhelming sense of the number of obstacles faced when it comes to making policy.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed the passion I sensed from everyone in DC. Although it makes compromise and change more difficult because everyone is passionate (and not necessarily about the same things), I like that sense of determination and constant “buzz.” A great example of this is the passion and enthusiasm we saw from the Tuesday morning panel. I found it refreshing to hear from someone who (in my humble opinion), has a balanced, realistic approach to the field of nutrition and does not hesitate to confront issues head-on. There was also tension between different organizations (such as the FDA and NRA), which reinforced the need for compromise and trade-offs when it comes to policies.

One thing that was mentioned is that there is almost always bias; we need to recognize that bias and find areas of consensus. Nutrition is an evolving science so the “answers” and supporting evidence for suggestions are constantly changing. The very nature of this evolving field easily produces bias; some groups may hold on to certain pieces of evidence while others hold on to different pieces. Appreciating diverse viewpoints, respecting different opinions, and focusing on that area of consensus is important. The goal of nutrition will differ depending on the intended audience.

A few key thoughts stuck with me that will be helpful once I move beyond the classroom and into the real world: recognizing bias, speaking up and advocating for what you believe in, being persistent, and focusing on consensus instead of labeling “friend v. foe.”

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