January 19, 2013 by hpworley
I started off the semester knowing very little about nutrition and policy. I always found policy interesting but too complicated and time consuming to really get involved. I have worked as a clinical dietitian and in clinical management and have always been too “in the trenches” to be bothered with policy and things I felt were beyond my control.
Our conference in DC was an eye opening experience on both a personal and professional level. Personally I discovered a new passion for policy. Professionally, I found it exciting to see so many public health nutritionists, with my same credentials, making an impact in the world of nutrition. I don’t have to be a clinical dietitian forever! I can’t adequately express my enthusiasm in this blog.
As stated in my peers blogs there were many reoccurring themes, or take home messages we walked away with. Be aware of the potential unintended consequences of policy. Realize everyone is coming to the table with a bias, even you. You must show evidence of your effectiveness and be accountable. Transparency is the new popular concept. I would have to say that my biggest lesson learned is that nothing is black and white—but there’s a whole lot of gray. Everyone is having make compromise. “For the good of the public” is more difficult to decipher when you look at it from every perspective. Hostess went out of business last year and I’m sure many nutritionists cheered that they would no longer have to contend with the evil Twinkie. However, this also meant a loss of income for many hard working Americans, who were forced to find another job in a harsh economy. While this is by no means an example of nutrition policy it does demonstrate that you have to consider every angle. Closing down the food industry is not the answer.
For one of my blog assignments I was asked to write if the Food Industry was a Friend of Foe—and I responded somewhere in the middle, a frenemy, someone who we couldn’t be implicitly trusted. While I still hold the beliefs I posted in that blog, I can see the issue from a new perspective… (gulp) the food industries. They are under mounting pressure and have been demonized in the media. Yet they respond and provide what we ask for, low-fat, low-carb, low sodium, high fiber. While it might not be quite the message many of us are trying to send, while it may in fact sometimes benefit them financially (though as we learned, not always), it does demonstrate an effort to play nicely.
One topic I didn’t hear a great deal of discussion about was how nutrition policy affect older adults. While it was mentioned briefly throughout various presentations, it was not thoroughly discussed by anyone. Given the aging population, this is an important area of policy and one that I would like to learn more about.
The biggest message I walked away with was that nutrition policy is not beyond my control. I am able to be a part of the commenting process we discussed. Prior to this trip, working in industry would have felt like a moral dilemma. Now I can see how nutritionists can make change from the within organizations, instead of fighting them from the outside. You not only can, but should write your congressman. Most importantly, I learned it is my responsibility as a public health nutritionist to be aware of and educated on nutrition policy.