You’ve Got to Love Your Tree

by Hannah Meier

“Love Your Tree.” It’s a directive inspired by Eve Ensler, the writer and activist behind the one-woman play, The Good Body (you may also know her as the playwright for the wildly popular Vagina Monologues). “Love Your Tree” is also the foundation of a creative arts eating disorder prevention campaign that started at the The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Maryland in 2006 and has since expanded nationally. Today, organizations across the country, including Massachusetts, are invited to participate in the 2018 campaign and submit artwork that illustrates body diversity, acceptance and positivity.

“Eve, look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now, look at that tree (pointing to another one). Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty ‘cause it doesn’t look like that tree? We’re all trees. You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your body, Eve. You’ve got to love your tree.” (Excerpt from The Good Body, 2004 by Eve Ensler). 

In the Baltimore-based Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, art therapy is a main component of recovery—helping patients approach body image struggles in a non-threatening way. Friedman alum, Christine Diven (Nutrition Communication, ‘12), assists with communications for the center where Julia Anderson, a Certified Eating Disorder Art Therapist created the Love Your Tree (LYT) Campaign in 2006. LYT is inspired by the metaphor in Ensler’s play, and is designed to cultivate an appreciation for the natural diversity of body sizes and help young people fight against society’s narrow and marginalizing standard of beauty and worth.

Love Your Tree Like a tree…my body is similar to no other. Lily D. Sudbrook Magnet Middle School 2016

As someone who personally struggled with an eating disorder that stemmed from dysmorphic body image throughout my childhood and adolescence, I emphatically understand how important it is to build an acceptance and appreciation of all bodies—especially in childhood. With increased attention drawn to childhood obesity and even weight loss in youth, establishing a sense of body trust and acceptance in childhood is of the utmost importance for educators today to prevent the development of eating disorders for these kids down the road.

What We Know About Eating Disorders

Unfortunately, research on eating disorders is anything but well-funded. Current statistics estimate that between 0.5 to 3.7 percent of American women suffer from anorexia nervosa at some point in their lifetime, and about 1 percent of female adolescents currently have anorexia[i]. Bulimia nervosa affects an estimated 1.1 to 4.2 percent of women in their lifetime. Binge-Eating Disorder, one of the most recently codified eating disorders in the diagnostic manual for psychiatric illnesses, is the most common, affecting 3.5 percent % of women and 2 percent of men in the United States, according to the latest statistics[ii].

Clearly, these numbers are conservative, and they do not account for the millions of individuals who may suffer from disordered eating but do not meet one or more of the required criteria for a clinical diagnosis. These numbers also assume that those with eating disorders seek treatment, which is sadly not always the case. Also worth noting, most of our understanding of eating disorders comes from research conducted on women, since anorexia and bulimia are traditionally perceived to affect women more than men; however, men are no less likely to suffer from eating disorders[iii].

Dieting and disordered eating often come back to poor body image or a desire to alter one’s body to better fit societal norms, putting thinness above real physical health. Results from a  2008 Canadian study found that 40% of Canadian girls in tenth grade and 37% of girls in ninth grade thought of themselves as “too fat,” and 19% of those with a normal BMI considered themselves to be overweight. Twelve percent of those with a normal BMI admitted to trying to lose weight[iv].

All Different, All One
Like a tree, my body…is unique and part of a whole. Melissa B. Bel Air High School 2017

Body dissatisfaction has a lot of other negative effects on kids and teens beyond increasing the risk for developing eating disorders. Some studies have shown that when students feel badly about their bodies, their GPAs are likely to be lower than students who don’t feel badly about themselves. And while we might think these types of issues arise in adolescence, body dissatisfaction and body anxiety may begin as young as second grade across varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, in both boys and girls.

How does Love Your Tree fight back?

According to current program director Brianna Garrold, the LYT campaign is currently in its 12th year. It was originally structured for middle and high school students in the Baltimore and surrounding area, but now reaches outside the state with organizations in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Schools and organizations that host programs invite students to submit artwork representing their response to the Tree metaphor.

The campaign is even expanding overseas and across age groups. “In 2014, an organization in Australia picked up the message and contacted the creator of the program for more information about LYT and tips for hosting their own show and awards ceremony,” Garrold explained. “Over the years, Love Your Tree has expanded to include college students, and as of 2016, kindergarten and elementary-aged students. LYT has also started branching out beyond school-based workshops and into community organizations as well.”

Just Beginning “Like a Tree…I am full of so much potential.” Katherine H (Dulaney Middle School) 2015 

For school participants and eating disorder patients alike, the metaphor of a tree helps to explore healthy body image and self-image in a non-threatening way. According to Garrold, art therapy often feels “easier and safer” for participants than other approaches.

What are the common risk factors we can focus on to prevent eating disorders?

Garrold points to the biopsychosocial model of development—an understanding that biological, psychological and social factors all can play key roles in determining whether someone will develop an eating disorder.

“Unfortunately, we live in a society that is comparative, image focused, and perfectionism driven—all things that fall under the ‘social’ part. Body dissatisfaction and body anxiety are beginning at younger ages due to exposure to these messages, and as our society becomes more connected and ‘plugged in,’ it is getting seemingly harder to ignore them,” she says. Frequently, comparison to peers and media influence are major factors that contribute to the development of low self-esteem and poor body image.

“It can feel like an uphill battle to help reach out and provide support for kids,” Garrold admits.  “Keeping an eye out for warning signs, like social withdrawal, critical or comparative comments about or related to peers or celebrities, fixation on being ‘the best’ or feeling the need to be perfect, [and] fixation with weight or food can offer insight into areas kids and teens might be struggling with.”

“Body of a Tree”
Like a tree…my body is as healthy as it can be.
Ethan S. (Pine Grove Middle School) 2015

What can we do in Massachusetts to get involved?

Garrold invites those of us outside of Maryland to participate as an out-of-state chapter, especially if we work with students or young adults. “Outreach programs like Love Your Tree are designed to combat negative messages by educating students about the effects of the media on self-esteem and body image. Allowing space and time for conversation around topics like body image can be empowering for students […] and providing education about media literacy (understanding some of the dynamics of advertising, [and] the use of photo alteration programs) is a great topic to include as well.”

Even if we can’t fully participate fully in LYT, the website offers resources and support, and Garrold stresses that the most important part is to help kids feel like they have someone to talk to and activities to engage in. She recommends the online gallery at to spark the conversation.

“Our culture seems to spend a lot of time discussing criticism and flaws and not enough time discussing successes and positive attributes. Encouraging kids and teens to get involved in activities they enjoy, engage with peers, feel comfortable and safe enough to explore their talents, and celebrate what makes each individual unique are all ways we can help foster healthier students, which in turn, fosters healthier communities. The hope is that starting on a small scale will snowball into larger messages of healthy self-esteem and body acceptance.”

Bringing it back to Friedman

As part of a school focused on nutrition science and policy, we are well aware of the health challenges our nation faces, and the role proper nutrition can play. Decades of research associating overweight and obesity with increased risk for disease and lower quality of life has called us to lead the crusade for health—to prevent or reduce overweight and obesity by empowering individuals and communities to prioritize nutrition and its downstream health benefits. We know that obesity and disease disparately affect those of low socioeconomic status, and understand that it takes a multi-pronged intervention to make a dent in reshaping a community.

“Love Every Tree, Love Every Body
Like a tree…my body is unique and beautiful.
Amelia R. (Patterson Mill High School) 2015

But have we been paying enough attention to weight stigma? The American Academy of Pediatrics very recently released a policy statement about weight stigma experienced by children and adolescents with obesity, which is a must-read for anyone working with this population (likely all of us, in some regard). In it, they point out that weight stigma is widely tolerated because our society believes it will motivate people to lose weight, despite its counterproductive contribution to behaviors such as binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of health care services decreased physical activity and ultimate accelerated weight gain over time[v].

Instead of focusing on reversing weight gain trends, perhaps we should focus on reversing the plague of weight stigma. Health behaviors exist outside of body mass index, and focusing wholeheartedly on weight has proven to be undeniably ineffective, and perhaps harmful, in cultivating healthy behavior change[vi],[vii],[viii].

As Garrold encourages, “helping establish a healthy (or healthier) self-image is essential to prevention of and recovery from eating disorders.” Everyone can benefit from feeling more connected to and proud of their body.

If you are interested in getting involved in the Love Your Tree campaign, visit for more information. The 2017-2018 campaign is NOW OPEN and accepting poster submissions from students of all ages. Visit the website to view past submissions and learn how to submit an entry.

Hannah Meier is a Registered Dietitian, second year Nutrition Communications student, aspiring eating disorder specialist and an advocate for healthcare that does not stigmatize based on weight. Her favorite ways to honor her body include twisting and balancing in yoga poses and wearing extra soft pajamas as often as possible.


[i] The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources, 2003.

[ii] Hudson, J., Hiripi, E., Pope, H., & Kessler, R. (2007) “The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.” Biological Psychiatry, 61, 348–358.

[iii] Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood. Eating Disorders, 20(5), 346–355.

[iv] Boyce, W. F., King, M. A. & Roche, J. (2008). Healthy Living and Healthy Weight. In Healthy Settings for Young People in Canada.

[v] Pont, S. J., Puhl, R., Cook, S. R., & Slusser, W. (2017). Stigma Experienced by Children and Adolescents With Obesity. Pediatrics. Retrieved from

[vi] Thompson JK, Stice E. Thin-ideal internalization: Mounting evidence for a new risk factor for body-image disturbance and eating pathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2001;10(5):181-3.

[vii] Pelletier LG, Dion SC, Slovinec-D’Angelo M, Reid R. Why do you regulate what you eat? Relationships between forms of regulation, eating behaviors, sustained dietary behavior change, and psychological adjustment. Motivation and Emotion. 2004;28(3):245-77

[viii] Bacon L, Stern JS, Van Loan MD, Keim NL. Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005;105(6):929-36.


One Hundred and Fifty-Six

One hundred and fifty-six.

That is the number of new, incoming Masters, Ph.D., and Certificate Program students to the Friedman School this year. 156 new faces, new names to learn, new friendships to forge… all future experts in food, nutrition, science, and policy! Let’s break down the numbers.

Friedman's incoming class, 2017.

Friedman’s incoming class, 2017.

To all of you: welcome to Friedman! And for the returning cohorts: welcome back! I’m really excited to meet the new class, and I hope that we’ll cross paths in the halls of Jaharis.

But let’s get to introductions: Hey! I’m Kathleen Nay, co-editor of the Friedman Sprout. I’m a third-year dual degree student in the Agriculture, Food & Environment (AFE) and Urban & Environmental Planning & Policy (UEP) programs. I’m thrilled to be co-editing the Sprout for a second year, and eager to dive head first into my final year of graduate school. In Alberta, Canada—where I hail from—we’d say, “just give’r!” (For those unfamiliar with the verb, Urban Dictionary defines it as “going balls-to-the-wall to take care of business as quickly and awesomely as possible. May or may not involve drop-kicking something without hesitation.” Now you know.)

The past two weeks have been busy for all of us as we shop classes, meet with advisors, finalize schedules, and decide how and where to get involved in student life. At the Friedman Sprout, we’ve been gearing up for an exciting year and planning fun things for our writers (more on that from my illustrious co-editor, Hannah, below). We hope YOU will join us in crafting this year’s Friedman Sprout—a publication produced entirely by students. Please pitch us your ideas, we’d love to hear from you!

If writing isn’t your thing (it is—you just don’t know it yet), there are so many other opportunities to leave your mark on our Friedman community. In this special mid-month issue, you’ll hear from student leaders who are busy planning the year ahead. Student leaders like:

  • Danielle Krobath, Student Council Co-Chair. From the annual Welcome Back Picnic, to advocating for new computers in the student lounge and student-accessible meeting spaces, to the year-end retreat at George’s Island, and everything in between, Student Council is actively engaged in shaping Friedman student life.
  • Simon Ye, Chair of Slow Food Tufts. Slow Food Tufts is a chapter of Slow Food International, a grassroots organization promoting good, clean, and fair food for all. Not only does Slow Food host events like kimchi-making workshops and local chocolate factory tours, it’s a great way to get to know students from other programs and to learn about the greater Boston food community.
  • Bridget Carle and Casey Florea, organizers for Dig In! Nutrition Education (DINE). DINE is an ongoing partnership with third grade classrooms at Josiah Quincy Elementary School, where Friedman students teach lessons on nutrition and food. It’s a low-commitment, but high-fun way to give back to the Chinatown community in a positive way.
  • Hannah Meier, Sara Scinto and Jessie Ellis, advocates of the Friedman Unofficial Running Club (FURC). Got some energy to burn off? Need some friends to hold you to your distance goals? Want to explore new corners of the Boston area on foot? Check these folks out.
  • Kenny Westerman, Katherine Rancano, Jessie Ellis, and Jennifer Huang, coordinators of NewTrition, a TED Talk-style platform for Friedman students to share research and generate discussion about topics in nutrition.
  • Julie Kurtz, member of the Friedman Justice League, a grassroots group committed to making Friedman—and the world—a better place through thoughtful engagement with our food system.

It’s a new year. Let’s make our mark! Hey, Hannah, how is Sprout making our mark this year?

Thanks, Kathleen! I’m super excited about everything we have in the works. Before I get to that, let me introduce myself.

Hi! My name is Hannah Meier, I’m a second-year (fourth semester) student in the Nutrition Communications program and I’m thrilled that I get to be one of the editors of the Sprout this year. I really enjoyed participating as a contributing writer last year. I learned so much about myself as a writer and a professional in the nutrition space, and encourage anyone and everyone to write about the topics they are passionate about—it’s not only a great way to establish more expertise for yourself (and build out that resume!), but an amazing chance to immerse yourself into the buzzing food and nutrition community in Boston.

The Sprout will continue to publish student-written articles monthly. We have traditionally focused on written articles, but would love to see students get creative with other media platforms like video, photography, graphic design, or audio.

If you haven’t signed up to receive communication about writing for the Sprout, send us an email and we’ll get you squared away:

We are also ramping up our social media presence. We hear you: Facebook is so 2010. While we aren’t leaving Facebook (it’s a great way for us to share the fabulous articles students write with everyone from grandma to embassy ambassadors), we are venturing into other platforms like Instagram, beginning with a collaboration with @Tufts_Nutrition (follow them!). We hope to feature authors, articles, quotes, photography… anything and everything we are proud of by our fabulous contributors.

Speaking of our fabulous contributors, I am very excited to announce that we will debut a new tradition following each publication: Contributor Happy Hours! We all know that writing is rewarding, but sometimes so challenging. We don’t need to go through the rollercoaster in isolation! We are already excited to bask in the glow of publication bliss with fellow student writers and a fun beverage of choice. Social hour + incentive to write resume-boosting food and ag pieces, yes please!

Finally, Kathleen and I are working hard to pull together writing workshops this year, hosted by the Sprout and featuring influential voices in the food and nutrition writing space. We hope that these offer an opportunity to learn from the pro’s, get expert opinion on your assignments and submissions, and sharpen your writing skills. Writing, and communication in general, is critical when it comes to exerting expert influence within our fields, and we are excited to bring this learning opportunity to all Friedman students.

In good health,

Hannah and Kathleen

Friedman Sprout Co-Editors, Hannah Meier and Kathleen Nay

Friedman Sprout Co-Editors, Hannah Meier and Kathleen Nay


In this issue…

Hello Friedman!

by Danielle Krobath, Friedman Student Council

Welcome (and Welcome Back!) from Slow Food Tufts

by Simon Ye

Dig In to DINE this School Year!

by Bridget Carle and Casey Florea

Friedman Unofficial Running Club (FURC)

by Hannah Meier, Sara Scinto and Jessie Ellis

NewTrition Welcome Back 2017

by Kenny Westerman, Katherine Rancano, Jessie Ellis and Jennifer Huang

Making a Lasting Impact on Friedman

by Julie Kurtz, Friedman Justice League


Finding Common Ground for Nutrition in a World of Alternative Facts

by Rachel Baer

Rachel Baer tackles the implications of the “post-truth” culture for the nutrition profession and poses 3 questions to consider about our response to the unending barrage of nutrition-related “alternative facts.”

As a registered dietitian, I can tell you this: Nutrition professionals know a thing or two about alternative facts. We spend our careers with textbooks and scientific journals in hand, waiting for the next misinformed food fad to go viral. We fight to defend the facts because we have always believed that if we could show people what is true, we could convince them that we have the best answers for their nutrition-related questions. But the concept of truth is losing popularity.

The Oxford English Dictionary declared the term “post-truth” to be the 2016 word-of-the-year. Post-truth is defined as “related to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Let that sink in for a moment: emotional appeals are more influential than objective facts. While this concept is alarming on many levels, I am particularly concerned about its implications for health professionals who rely on scientific truths as the basis of their credibility.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the frustration people feel as they watch seemingly contradictory nutrition headlines emerge at the very hint of new research findings. One day people are told to limit egg consumption to 3 yolks per week, the next, the one-yolk-per-day allowance is back. However, as nutrition professionals, we have a certain appreciation for the fact that science is ever-evolving. We hold our recommendations lightly because we believe in a scientific community that is always growing, and that new discoveries only sharpen our understanding of nutrition and physiology. The public, on the other hand, does not always share this appreciation.

Confusion over wavering nutrition claims is exacerbated by the inundation of un-credentialed, unschooled voices clamoring for attention in popular media. Social media has provided a proverbial soapbox for anyone with a passionate message to share, regardless of qualifications. Simultaneously, dietitians tend to hold back on making bold retorts, often waiting for consensus to catch up with the fads so that our recommendations are supported with the latest research. This seeming imbalance of voices alongside the emergence of the post-truth culture only perpetuates the proliferation of unfounded claims, or “alternative facts,” as they have become popularly known.

I have no easy answers for this predicament, but here are 3 questions that we could benefit from exploring as nutrition professionals:

1. How do we remain experts while also being compelling?

Dietitians have long been referred to as the “food police.” While I resent this reputation, it highlights a worthy question: Do nutrition professionals present information in a way that is relatable, realistic, and winsome to the people whose respect we want to gain?

We can no longer depend solely on the letters after our names to gain an audience with the public, particularly when we are pitted against wayward blog and media influencers using sensationalized language to win over vast groups of people who blindly follow their passionate advice. The internet is full of examples of people preferring to follow the advice of a persuasive friend or influencer over the advice of a knowing professional. While this situation is endlessly frustrating to those of us who see through their hyperbolic messages, is there anything we can learn from these blog/media personalities that may help us reach the audience they seem to have hooked? How do we successfully build rapport with the public while maintaining good science?

2. How do we talk about fundamentals in a world that wants controversy?

Let’s face it. Fundamentals don’t make great headlines. For decades, consensus research has revealed that a diet full of minimally-processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts/seeds, lean proteins, and healthy fats is unequivocally and unanimously the best diet for human health. Yet, people still search elsewhere looking for the latest and greatest weight-loss, risk-reducing, and health-enhancing diets. Could it be that balance is more challenging than we thought? Perhaps avoiding certain food groups or food ingredients altogether is easier than the amorphous concept of moderation? Our greatest challenge is not getting more people to consume health information, it is finding new and compelling ways to deliver the information we’ve known for decades, and this is no small task.

3. How do we overcome differences within the nutrition profession to present a united front to people lost in the sea of alternative facts?

In 2014, David Katz and Walter Willet co-chaired a conference sponsored by the non-profit Oldways*, titled “Finding Common Ground.” Oldways and the co-chairs assembled what they referred to as “the dream team of nutrition experts,” including Friedman’s own, Dariush Mozaffarian, as well as Dean Ornish, creator of the Ornish Diet; David Jenkins, founder of the glycemic index; Boyd Eaton, originator of the Paleolithic diet; Collin Campbell, author of The China Study; and a myriad of others. Known most commonly for their differences, this group of scientists gathered together for the sole purpose of coming to a consensus on the basic tenants of a healthy diet. In the end, the group agreed on 11 common denominators of the widely differing philosophies they espouse. The topics ranged from fruit and vegetable consumption, to sustainability, to food literacy.

Following the conference, David Katz published an article in Forbes where he said “…it is the controversies at the edge of what we know that interest experts most, but ask [experts] about the fundamentals, and the vast expanse of common ground is suddenly revealed.” The Common Ground committee’s decision to gather around a table, invite open dialogue, and pursue unity is something we could all learn a lesson from. Alternative facts will always provide fodder for hucksters and peddlers of over-simplified nutrition information, but the scientific community has a vast body of research that unites us. As nutrition professionals, we cannot forget that our voices will always be more powerful together than they ever will apart.

Rachel Baer is a registered dietitian and a first-year in the NICBC program at Friedman. Her favorite foods are Brussels sprouts and brownies, and she loves nothing more than cooking great meals and gathering people around a table.

*Editor’s Note, 5/1/17  2:09 PM: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of the organization, “OldWays.” The correct spelling is Oldways, and the change has been made above.

A Crash Course in Informational Interviewing

by Kathleen Nay

For someone new to networking, the process can seem intimidating and unclear as to where to begin. Informational interviews are a low-risk but valuable way to start building a professional network.

If you had asked me a year ago what an informational interview was, my likely response would have been, “Informational interview? What’s that?” It was a term I’d never heard before, but it piqued my interest. I knew “networking” was a thing “professionals” did, but to someone like me—new to grad school, new to my understanding of how public policy works, and new to Boston where I didn’t know anyone—networking sounded like a vague and intimidating process. I knew it was an important skill to develop, but wasn’t sure where or how to start. Informational interviewing, I’ve learned since then, is an easy, concrete way to begin building your professional network and hone your career path goals.

First, what is an informational interview? An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like: while similar to a job interview, it is less about trying to sell yourself and more about exploring the landscape of organizations or careers you might like to pursue. It is not about asking for a job—though it could lead to one down the line—but rather a chance for you to ask questions of experienced professionals in your field to help you evaluate your own skills and interests. Typically 20-30 minutes long (but often longer), they are meant to be conversational, low-risk meetings where you get to set the agenda.

They’re not just for networking. People participate in informational interviews for a host of reasons. As a new grad student, you might be curious about what classes other alumni from your program found most valuable, or what skills they wish they’d learned before entering the job market. You might want to find out how they like their job to see if it’s something you want to do. If you’re about to enter the job market, informational interviews are a useful way to learn about work sites, career tracks within a sector or company, or about specific roles. Even for working professionals who have established careers, informational interviews are valuable for expanding the breadth of one’s knowledge about a field, as well as for exploring the edges where one field meets another.

What kinds of questions should I ask? Before engaging in an informational interview, know your objectives. What do you want to learn about this person or company? Remember—you’re the one setting the agenda, so be prepared with a list of questions to guide the conversation.

If you’re most interested in the person’s career path or their field generally:

  • What’s your story? How did you get here?
  • Where do you see your industry heading in the next 5-10 years?
  • Are there any skills you recommend I master while I’m still in school? Classes I should take?
  • What are you hoping a next generation player like myself will bring to the table to further this work?

If you want to find out about a particular job, organization, or work culture:

  • What do you like most about your job? What don’t you like?
  • What does a typical day look like for you?
  • What is work-life balance like at your company? Does your organization offer continuing education opportunities? What is the expected starting pay for someone with my degree? What is the work environment like?
  • What specific skills are necessary to succeed at your company?

Remember to let the conversation guide you. If something they say sparks a question you hadn’t thought of before, ask it! For example, if they mention that they moved from the public to private sector, ask about that transition and what prompted their decision. If they mention collaboration with a partner organization, ask about that partnership. Be genuine and express interest in whatever they say. Even if it’s something you find less than compelling or don’t agree with, it can still inform your career decisions.

Okay, so how do I identify someone to interview? Alumni networks are a great place to start. Friedman’s alumni network is 1,700 people strong, and it’s easy to get connected with the Alumni Association on LinkedIn or Facebook. The Tufts Online Community is another excellent resource for searching among more than 100,000 Tufts alumni by region or interest areas. Friedman’s Student Affairs office keeps binders of internships completed by past students, including their contact information. It’s as easy as asking that alum for an introduction to someone at the organization you’re curious about. Additionally, our professors are well connected—if there’s a specific organization they’ve mentioned or a guest lecturer they’ve had in class, ask your professor if he or she can connect you.

There are less obvious ways to go about finding people to interview, too—like literature searches. Who’s an expert in the field? Who has written articles that resonate with you? Often their contact information is included in the article—send an email expressing your interest and a couple of questions you have. Planning to attend any upcoming conferences or events? People love to hand out their business cards, and having already met someone gives you a great excuse to follow up with a request to learn more about each other over coffee. You might even find someone’s contact information on a website and decide to reach out.

At each interview you do, conclude by asking whom else you should know. Your interviewee will likely be able to identify other professionals with similar interests, and may even offer to introduce you. Take them up on their offer—this is a key component to network building!

What else should I know? Basic interviewing etiquette applies. Keep your correspondence professional. Research your interviewee beforehand. Dress presentably. Take notes. Remember to follow up with a thank you email or, even better, a hand-written card.

But here’s the most important piece of advice: stop talking. Even though you asked for the meeting—even though you’ve set the agenda—an informational interview is not about you. Most people love to talk about themselves. Let them! Your role is to learn from their experiences and be receptive to their advice.

Finally, relax. Informational interviewing sounds scary and formal, but when it comes right down to it, it’s just a conversation. You’ll learn as you go, and it will get easier every time. Remember that people who say “yes” to you will be thrilled to share, because they were once in your shoes. Just be your authentic self! You’ll come away not only knowing more about your field, but with new directives for your career. And if you’re lucky, you’ll collect a network of professional mentors who want to help you succeed.

Kathleen Nay is a second-year AFE/UEP dual degree student who found her internship quite by accident through an informational interview, and has met some inspiring people by doing more since!


Health Literacy 101: How You Write Matters!

by Ally Gallop, RD, CDE and Claire Whitney, RD, LD

Health literacy. Ever heard of it? Well, there’s a 99.9% chance you’ll stumble upon it in your future career. You will need health literacy if you want a population or an individual to comply with your suggestions, be it to eat more vegetables or exercise daily. Over the winter break, Tufts University’s Public Health and Professional Degree professor Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi led an eye-opening course in health literacy (HCOM 509). We were shocked by our carelessness! So where are we, as future communicators, going wrong?

At Friedman, students tend to have the freedom to select a topic for an assignment or paper. We conduct the research and revise multiple drafts, and after a final self-edit, an end product is produced. Often, these papers are intended for our professors or other health professionals. Beyond the classroom, writers for the Friedman Sprout select a topic of interest, peer-edit, and unleash the finished articles to the world.

However, some of these and future projects require writing for children or the general public, groups that require a shift in writing style and word choice. After making any appropriate edits we default to Microsoft Office to verify our changes with its readability option. Readability considers the number of words in each sentence and the number of syllables each word contains. Based on this assessment, a grade level is assigned.

But then what? Do we ever consider the impact of our message on our target audience? Do we accept an eighth grade reading level as being easy to read from the perspective of that audience? Aren’t we as health communicators forgetting something?

Left out of the readability formula is health literacy. Health literacy is not only a person’s ability to read, but it also considers

  • Layout and formatting of the text
  • Words chosen when verbally communicating health messages
  • Inclusion of technology (e.g., the internet)
  • Learning ability of an individual
  • Cultural appropriateness

Together, these factors clarify messages being delivered by health providers. Purity in message delivery increases one’s ability in making informed decisions about their health.

How do people find and process health information?

The flow chart below presents the Calgary Charter on Health Literacy’s logic model that follows how an individual finds information and puts it into action. When providing health information as a communicator, a break in the chain is a break in your ability to deliver a message and implement behavior change.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 5.11.04 PM

Revised from The Calgary Charter as a framework for health literacy curriculum development and evaluation. Presented by Andrew Pleasant at the 2013 IHA Health Literacy Conference in Irvine, CA. May 2013.

Major takeaways from HCOM 509 for nutrition communication writers

In relation to written communication, the key concepts learned from Professor Kurtz-Rossi’s class include:

  1. Assume that everyone is health illiterate

Why does health literacy even matter? Lacking health literacy is linked to poor health outcomes and knowledge about health, increased medication errors and health care costs, and under-utilization of health care services. Individuals often hide reading, writing, and comprehension difficulties, which makes it hard for communicators to assess whether their messages have gotten through.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012 (PIAAC) measured the literacy (which it defines as “understanding, evaluating, using and engaging with written text to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential”), numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments among American adults. PIAAC found that only 12 percent of those aged 16 to 65 years met the highest literacy score, which is significantly below the international average. Another measurement by the U.S. Department of Education reports that 9 out of 10 American adults have less than proficient health literacy scores.

It does not matter if your intended audience is lawyers, athletes, or even those with a science degree; you cannot assume that they understand health and medical messaging.

Solution: No matter how educated your audience is, assume they lack health literacy. Speak and write in plain language by defining essential medical words and replacing jargon with living room language. This is not condescending; it is respecting the individual receiving the message.

  1. Readability formulas are not the gold standard

Readability formulas, like Microsoft Office’s Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, do not measure health literacy. Formulas may still be used, but not in isolation. A similar comparison is only using body mass index (BMI) in determining a patient’s health—even though it only considers height and body weight. Although BMI is one measurement tool it should be used in concert with others (e.g., blood cholesterol panel, waist circumference, a patient’s self-evaluation, etc.).

Measuring your writing’s readability should also be applied to blogs, emails, and any other technological means. Combing through blogs by dietitians, we found an average reading level of grade 10!

Solution: You could still use readability formulas as a starting point, but try supplementing those scores by evaluating the writing’s layout, spacing, and format. Other options you may want to try out include the Fry Readability Formula.

  1. Gain input from your target audience. And then ask for feedback again and again and…

When first setting out to write, how often do you think about the target audience? Do you consider their age or socioeconomic status? Do you evaluate what they want to know about the topic?

Although you may have a peer or an editor review your work, remember that they are likely not your target audience. Your article means nothing if your audience cannot understand it and use the information. Reaching out to intended readers at the beginning, during draft writing, and in finalizing the piece are vital in ensuring that your writing is relevant.

Solution: From topic selection to the final copy you need to gain feedback from your target audience. This includes what valuable information is included (i.e., the “need to knows”), the article’s format (e.g., dense text, bulleted lists, images, and article length), and if the delivery of the message persuades one to change a behavior.

Going forward

When writing for the public, stop wasting your time writing an article that interests only you. Think about the audience you are writing for and how well they understand and interpret your message. As health communicators, if people are going to take the time to read your work then ensure they are able to understand and implement it.

Ally Gallop, RD, CDE is a second-year nutrition communication and behavior change student focusing in U.S. food and nutrition policy. She now uses readability formulas solely as a starting point.

Claire C. Whitney, RD, LDN is a second-year nutrition communication and behavior change student with an interest in Food Business and Communication. Being dyslexic, she understands first-hand the importance of plain language and readability.