New Perspectives from “The Hill” and Beyond

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January 15, 2013 by lizzyannsanders

If I had to sum up my entire experience in DC in one sentence, it would be: This is all a lot more complicated than you think.

Creating nutritional guidelines doesn’t mean that people will follow them. The first overarching theme I noticed during our Washington sessions was the importance of making sure that nutrition policies don’t just look good on paper. It takes a lot of push, pull and compromise to legislate nutrition policies, but it takes just as much work to make sure they are efficacious when put into action. When creating policies on a national level, you really have to think about how they can be implemented on a local level as well. Oftentimes, its these local efforts that make a good policy efficacious in the long run.

A nutritionist’s relationship with industry can straddle the lines between friend and foe. Up to the point of the DC trip, I had never considered working for industry. The purely “reactive” side of my mind saw this as tantamount to selling my soul. Needless to say, I was pretty curious to hear what nutritionists working in industry had to say when they stepped up to speak in front of our class in DC. I was surprised to see that the nutritionists working in industry did not look or act like they were choking back years of regret over selling their souls to Little Debbie. On the contrary! They were intelligent people who were genuinely proud of their career paths. Each echoed the same sentiment: you can make a lot of positive change working with industry rather than against it.

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We learned about how several BIG names in industry are getting on board with new nutrition recommendations. (As you can see from the photo above) Walmart has partnered with the First Ladies’ “Let’s Move!” campaign and pledged to lower prices on healthier food items. Furthermore, they have also pledged to build new Walmart stores in areas designated as “food desserts.”  None of this praise of Walmart is meant to overshadow some of the genuine criticism that it still deserves.  But regardless about how you feel about Walmart, it is important to note their new found commitment to providing better nutrition to their customers and how this could be marking a shift in how industry responds to pressure from leaders in nutrition policy.

A little legislation can make a big difference. Initially, the idea of financially “tightening the belt” on the SNAP program left a really bad taste in my mouth. Our time in Washington DC, however, helped me to learn that no legislation is “air tight” and a lot of money can be saved by eliminating waste from government programs. Tightening up “loopholes” in the system can cover a good portion of the cuts to SNAP. Despite closing up these loopholes, there are still more proposed cuts to SNAP that will take benefits away from some needy families. Furthermore, there are some lawmakers who are pushing for more dramatic cuts to SNAP. Its our job as nutritionists to advocate good nutrition for everyone, including the poor. Some of our speakers stressed the fact that these supplemental food programs have larger scale effects than simply helping to feed families. By lessening the economic burden of food, SNAP has been shown to reduce the overall impact of poverty and making it easier for households to pay the bills. Given the current economic climate, advocating for poverty reduction programs like SNAP is more important than ever.

And last but not least: Getting a bill passed is a lot more complicated than it looked on “Schoolhouse Rock.”

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