25 October 2015

Dietitians for Global Nutrition!

Last week I was invited to present the Global Nutrition Report 2015 at a Global Nutrition Forum in Amsterdam with 40 leaders—most of whom I did not know. I was thrilled. It is difficult to get out of one’s comfort zone, but these folks made it easy.

The Forum was organized by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the European Federation of Associations of Dietitians and the International Confederations of Dietetic Associations. Basically, lots of leaders of dieticians, representing hundreds of thousands of members from all over the world.
Dieticians work in clinical practice but also in programmes and in policy arenas. They are an incredible resource in the fight against global nutrition. Are their contributions fully realised? Could they do more? The leaders of these Associations and Federations clearly thought so, hence the Forum.

A number of interesting points were made, for example: (1) we need to start advocating not for nutrition as an “add on” to other programs, but as “a miss” if not included, (2) many new dieticians entering the field have a desire to shape the wider nutrition rules of the game in ways that their predecessors were not encouraged to do, and (3) the number of dieticians per 1000 population is highest in Scandinavian countries (the very countries that are not allocating much to nutrition specific ODA funding!).
I made three recommendations to the group on where they could increase the leverage that their members have:

First, establish a World Nutrition Day. There is no World Day for nutrition (they exist for Food and for Obesity, but not for Nutrition). If anyone has the credibility to establish one, these representatives of the nutrition profession do. I used to think these World Days were not that important, but World AIDS Day made me change my thinking—what a rallying point for their community! We need one of our own rather than riding on the coattails of food and obesity.

Second, do more on influencing the food environment. Dieticians focus a lot on dealing with the consequences of the food environment we have. This is invaluable, but they can also help to shape that environment so that the number of cases they have to deal with is diminished? Do they have an incentive to do so (after all it reduces their client base)? The code of ethics that they sign up to would suggest yes. The British Dietetics Association has been quite proactive on the sugar tax debate in the UK—can the federations and associations do more of this? Any ties to industry obviously make this much more difficult.

Third, advocate for and propose new methods for the collection of better diet data. Currently, we have to make do with FAO’s Food Balance Sheet data, Euromonitor retails sales and a gaggle of subnational diet surveys using lots of different methods. Diet is the number one risk factor for the global burden of disease—and yet we cannot measure diets convincingly.

I really enjoyed my day of discussion with these folks. I learned a few things and got some very positive feedback on the Global Nutrition Report. Working with unusual suspects is usually very refreshing and this was no exception.

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