Student Today, Advocate Today and Tomorrow

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January 20, 2013 by blistenfelt

After three wonderful, but slightly whirlwind, days in DC, numerous topics and recurrent themes stuck with me. I will do my best to highlight a few of them here.

Everyday of the trip we heard a lot about the push for transparency  particularly in relation to governmental agencies. Several people lauded the Obama administration for increasing the transparency of the USDA, FDA, CDC, etc. I hope that he has increased the transparency of the actions of all governmental organizations, but in my opinion there is still a long way to go. With one agency in particular, there seemed to be a lot of secrecy concerning the areas and activities they would be focusing on in the future. Transparency is going to be vital going forward in this difficult financial time and I hope that steps in this direction continue.

Something that really resonated with me was that we are ALL advocates for public health and nutrition, regardless of the career paths we choose in the future. It is important for us, both as professionals and residents of this country, to take engage in activities to improve public health. I know I will be looking for opportunities to write my Congressperson about issues important to me and have already commented on a potential policy being considered by the USDA. I was also interested to learn that advocacy isn’t lobbying unless you are actually addressing a specific bill number.

I was disappointed to hear absolutely nothing about nutrition policy and the aging population of our country. Older adults have unique and significant nutrition issues that greatly impact their quality of life and their healthcare. Unfortunately though, these issues aren’t being discussed because it isn’t a “trendy” topic right now. The work of the First Lady and the Let’s Move Initiative are wonderful and benefit an important segment of the population, but not the only segment. Ignoring the nutrition concerns of the adult population will also have significant repercussions and burden our limited resources. 

While I can’t say I was shocked, the length of time it takes for policy to be made and then implemented is astounding. Even during the implementation phase, it can take 5+ years for the real changes and “meat” of the policy to take effect, and this is after the 10 or more years it took for the policy to be created. While such a long timeline helps prevent any and every idea from becoming law, it also means that the science and research behind a policy may be 5, 10, even 20 years old by the time a difference can be made. Given how quickly what we “know” in nutrition changes, having policies that reflect what we know right this moment is impossible. I won’t claim to have any brilliant ideas on how to improve the system, but this is certainly something that stuck out to me during our sessions.

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