by Cailin Kowalewski
We’d like to thank the Academy…
But not that academy. We’re talking about The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), whose annual education and information campaign, National Nutrition Month®, takes place this March. This year’s theme, “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle,” offers timely, practical, lifestyle-centric messages promoting healthy weight maintenance, chronic disease risk reduction, and overall health promotion. Sounds good, right? Sure does. Should you care? You bet! And why? Because no one else does.
A perusal of the AND’s website provides a good sense of their offerings to support nutrition in March. These include promotional resources like PSAs, a “Good Nutrition Reading List,” and information about Registered Dietitian Day on March 11. But while these resources may be useful to nutrition professionals, it is undeniable that the campaign lacks a sense of user-friendliness for the layperson. It lacks interactive appeal. It doesn’t encourage engagement. It doesn’t encourage excitement.
The AND’s campaign exemplifies efforts to secure a place for science-based nutrition information in the conscience of the American public. Unfortunately, it also exemplifies how gloriously these campaigns continue to fail.
The National Nutrition Month Facebook page has 11,294 likes. The Food Babe has 922,723.
A search for National Nutrition Month’s #NNM handle on Twitter brings up results for Nerd Nite at Melbourne University and Noname Magazine Studio’s radio updates.
Finally, we can observe the campaign’s striking presence in the blogosphere:
To be fair, the AND campaign may be wildly successful despite its lackluster performance on social media. “Dial a dietitian night” on local radio stations, cooking demos, recipe contests, and brochure handouts may be great ways to pique interest in our time-strapped, data-saturated culture. But more likely, these strategies will slip through the cracks and the general public will not realize the AND even exists.
The issue is one that rings true throughout the field of food and nutrition policy. How do we stay relevant? How can science earn a trusted place in the minds of Americans? On the heels of significant events like the release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee’s scientific report, an overhaul of the Congressional seating chart, and the rise of Vani Hari’s (aka the Food Babe) latest book to national best-seller lists (God help us), how can we build momentum that embraces and propels nutrition science?
Friedman students are equipped with a unique awareness of these questions, and with skills that make us uncommonly well-suited to proposing informed, innovative solutions. I bet that there is a Friedman graduate working at the AND, and I would be shocked if Friedman staff weren’t themselves involved in the current campaign. The question remains, how can something as potentially impactful as a National Nutrition Month remain as underutilized as it is?
The time for formality and organizations focused on providing resources for professionals has passed and a respect for the public, communal nature of American health and wellness is essential. As a school, Friedman should be leading the charge by leveraging the skills and talents of its students, facilitating our growth, and placing into our hands the most difficult challenges in nutrition policy that can be conceived.
We are ready to speak on behalf of science, and we are ready to be heard. But unlike academies and organizations like the AND which operate top-down communication campaigns, Friedman students have firsthand exposure to the dialogue that is necessary for understanding something as simultaneously complex and personal as nutrition. In short, we know how to listen, and it would behoove the organizations that will likely hire us in the near future to start acknowledging what we hear and want to hear.
Cailin Kowalewski is a second-year FPAN student at the Friedman School of Nutrition.