By: Janet Helm, MS, RD Date: 11/15/10
I recently returned from the American Dietetic Association’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, where I was entrenched in presentations reviewing the latest nutrition science. Speakers addressed everything from the conflicting data on saturated fats and heart disease to the emerging evidence exploring the anti-inflammatory benefits of spices and herbs.
Throughout many of the sessions, I was reminded of how important it is to accurately interpret this research for the consumer. So often, scientific studies get lost in the translation, and confusing or misleading information is communicated to the public.
That point was reinforced during “The Great Fat Debate,” one of the premier sessions at this year’s conference. Alice Lichtenstein from Tufts University reviewed the history of dietary guidance in this country and highlighted some of the major “message translation” problems. For instance, low fat became low calorie in the minds of consumers and low fat became equated with healthy. She underscored the importance of clear, consumer-friendly messages and made a plea for food-based vs. nutrient-focused dietary guidelines.
One of the dominant ways consumers are getting nutrition information these days is via the Internet, so I was happy to see that there were three sessions this year on social media (in addition to my own pre-FNCE workshop on digital strategies for dietitians). With the emergence of social media, we’ve seen a democratization of health information. Now it’s easier than ever to hear about the latest diet or learn about a new super food or dietary supplement by simply browsing the blogosphere. In the consumer’s mind, all of this health information appears equal – even though there’s no guarantee of the accuracy of the advice.
That’s why I think it’s critically important for dietitians to increase their comfort level in social media. These days, it’s not uncommon for a blog to have a readership that’s equal to a small daily newspaper.
There’s a lot of potential for message translation problems in social media, but there’s a tremendous opportunity to educate audiences like never before. One way I hope to provide greater exposure for credible nutrition information is through the Nutrition Blog Network, a site that features more than 100 blogs written by registered dietitians.
By the reaction at this year’s FNCE, certainly a lot more dietitians are eager to jump into the digital waters. That’s great news to me – and certainly great news for the public.
Janet Helm is author of the blog Nutrition Unplugged