Insightful Concepts from DC

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January 20, 2013 by Olivia Dong

Having grown up on the West Coast and so far from the DC area, it has, in my mind, always been a distant metropolitan area that conjured up images of power, chaos, seriousness, and financial capital. And for the most part, these descriptors still hold true after coming back from our trip. I grew up living in big cities, but DC was overwhelming in its own way – the emphasis on work, business, and competition permeated the city, even during my commutes in the mornings and evenings. My cousin, who lives in DC, told me that even leisure activities are competitive.

Although I don’t think I’ll head in the policy direction, the experience of being in DC and having the opportunity to listen to so many people involved in the policy world was very a valuable component in this program.  The trip to DC was definitely intellectually stimulating, as we heard from such a wide variety of speakers. Some of the broad concepts that resonated with me were:

Solutions for public health problems are not black and white. Since everyone is so fundamentally different, writing policy that addresses everyone’s needs is exceptionally difficult. Human behavior is so complicated, making it extremely challenging to foresee how the public will respond to policy or if the end result will even be reached after it has been in effect. Enacting policy comes with both benefits and risks, which is why varying perspectives and opinions are so important in DC – they allow issues to be examined from different angles. That’s why I found it important that the speakers stressed the importance of bringing in different viewpoints to the table whenever issues are debated. After all, people working in DC represent the diverse opinions of the public. Being able to articulate one’s point, especially to the opposition, was a crucial skill I saw many of the speakers do during the panel presentations. While dissension is often viewed as negative, I see it as a necessary process that helps to delve deeper into an issue and to learn about how else an issue can be interpreted (but only if the dissension is handled in a constructive manner).

Quality research is more important than who funded the study. This point resonated with me because it emphasizes being able to use analytical skills to critically critique a study instead of automatically discrediting it based on the perceived bias of the funder. While funding can greatly sway a research question or how facts are interpreted, focusing on something more concrete such as the quality of research will elicit a more focused and constructive conversation than discrediting it for how it was financed. If there is a conflict of interest, the reader should be able to analyze the quality and pinpoint concrete issues of how the study was conducted.   

Whatever we do within the nutrition field, we’ll be affected by policy in some way. That point was motivation enough to stay on top of current events and put effort into politics before legislation is passed. It’s so much easier to keep legislation from passing than it is to amend it after it has been approved. And as trained professionals, getting involved in politics will indirectly help those who aren’t well-versed in the field, especially when it can have great benefits to many, such as expanding preventative services.   

Overall, the broad concepts I took away from the 3 days helped refine the framework I use when evaluating issues within the field, especially when it involves policy. I have found that I’m less harsh when critiquing policy now after learning how difficult it is to craft successful policy. Also, instead of feeling frustrated by policy, the trip reinforced proactive steps I can engage in to change them. This trip also reinforced just how fluid the sciences can be and the importance of staying flexible to accommodate new research as science progresses and advances. I just hope policy can keep up with these changes because like we heard from one of the speakers, “science is irrelevant until the behavioral part is understood”.   

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