Author: Melissa Chapnick
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Hello! I write to you from Philadelphia - we are 48 hours into FNCE 2012. What is FNCE? Only slightly easier to explain than “what is a dietetic intern,” FNCE stands for the Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition. There are over 10,000 dietitians and students here. We have taken over the Philadelphia convention center, and let’s be honest, most of Philadelphia. A four day conference, FNCE offers lectures on hot nutrition topics, poster presentations, networking events, and TONS of free stuff.
As a dietetic intern, the experience is riveting. Students have chances to explore every area of dietetics and gain wisdom from seasoned dietitians. With a budding interest in public health I found myself drawn to a lecture entitled “Why can’t we all just work together? Public Health vs. Industry.” Initially a discussion about collaboration, what resulted was a heated debate on responsibility. Is it the responsibility of the food industry or public health professions to promote a healthy food environment? Or, is it simply the job of the consumer to make healthy decisions for themselves?
To illustrate this, the speaker described a scenario we all regularly encounter - food at the checkout line. In our current food environment, retail establishments place inexpensive, high calorie, nutrient poor foods along the checkout line. This often prompts consumers to add an additional 200-300 kcal to their cart. The calories end up as lbs added to their bodies and ultimately the development of chronic diseases and high healthcare costs. The food industry argument - consumers are responsible for their own decisions. The public health argument - policies should be in place to promote healthy food environments.
Unsure of my stance on the issue, I spent the rest of the evening considering my food environment and the tools I use to make healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) decisions. Essentially, there were two components. First is my nutrition knowledge. As a dietetic intern, I have lots of nutrition knowledge to use to make decisions. Second is the information available to me to evaluate food items. The integration of these two components can be experienced in something we do several times a day - read food labels. Consider the last time you looked at a food label. What were you checking for? Was it calories? Protein? Saturated fat? A particular ingredient? How did the information impact your decision to eat the food? In our current food environment where healthy options are not the default, we have to rely on both our knowledge and information available to us to make healthy decisions. When reading a food label, we are using both prior knowledge and provided information to make a decision. The fact that food labels exist on packaged items gives us the chance to apply our knowledge and make healthy decisions. Without these food labels, it would be a much bigger challenge to use knowledge to make decisions.
Food labels not only demonstrate the integration of applying knowledge to available information, they also helped me find my answer. The responsibility of promoting a healthy food environment does not lie in the hands of one party. Instead, this is a shared responsibility between dietitians, consumers, public health, and the food industry. Dietitians must educate the public on what is healthy, however nutrition education is not enough. Consumers must demand healthy options. Public health must design policies that promote a healthy food environment, and the food industry must respond to these demands and policies. Food labels are an excellent example of teamwork between public health officials and the food industry. Policies requiring food labeling, and industry implementation of the policies took us a step closer toward a food environment which supports healthy decisions. As we move further along this continuum, collaboration is essential.
Exploring controversial nutrition topics is just one example of what FNCE has to offer. Next stop, “Systems Approach to Ending Hunger: Exposing the Origin and Uncovering Solutions.”