Thursday, 21 January 2010

Telling People to Eat Fruits and Vegetables Isn’t Enough Anymore

While the role of a Dietitian has always been pretty clear to me, it has been put into question recently (I guess that's what happens when you go back to school...).

Dietitians, as stated by Dietitians of Canada (the “nation-wide voice of Dietitians”) , are trained to advise on diet, food and nutrition.

Simple, right? We study nutrition for 3-4 years , making us experts in the field of nutrition, and therefore able to advise, counsel and educate our clients on what food choices can best help them meet their health needs and goals.

Well, some argue that this is kind of presumptuous: who are dietitians to blindly tell you that you should be eating fruits and vegetables to decrease your cancer risk? What makes them the expert of you?

This is Hogwash...Right?

Firstly, on a one-on-one basis, a good Dietitian wouldn’t assume that she's an “expert of you” and wouldn’t simply tell you what to eat. She’ll get a good picture of what’s going on in your life first: learn about your culture and how you eat, ask about your health and learn about your family and their health, ask you what your health and nutrition concerns are, how you’re coping financially, etc. She’ll ask you lots of questions and use this information when making her suggestions.

At the public health level though, we have to use our expertise to educate the public about what they should be eating, right? In this case, it makes sense to send the message “increase your fruit and vegetable intake to decrease your cancer risk”.

Not so, according to some. Not holistic enough. Still too presumptuous.

I admit, I thought this was all hogwash... until I read an article called ‘Public Health Nutrition and Food Policy”.

It basically says that campaigns that target the individual, telling them to eat more of this, less of that, exercise more, weigh this much, etc., miss the mark. By putting the onus on the individual, we’re not dealing with the bigger issues like:

Why is broccoli more expensive than a hamburger? Why is it that we don’t really know where our food comes from? Why do very few Big Food corporations monopolize all our food and control their prices? Why is it that in 2 of the richest countries in the world, 15% of American households (17 million), and 9% of Canadian households (1.1 million) worry about where their next meal is coming from? Why are there are 800 million people hungry on this planet and 1 billion overweight?

So what’s a Dietitian to do?

While we still need to advise, educate, and promote good nutrition, and interpret new related research, our role is bigger than that. We need to get involved at the policy level.

Easier said than done, I know.

As a start, if you're Canadian, asking the Federal government to regulate trans fats in foods is one way to get involved in policy (See yesterday's post!). Hopefully I'll learn of more ways we can get involved that I can share with you... and let me know if you know of any.


Gina said...

Thanks for opening our eyes to this issue. VERY interesting, as always.

Jacqui Gingras said...

You are getting into some very complex issues here. I like how you are weaving the theory into the practical applications of nutrition. I look forward to seeing how this conversation evolves.

Anonymous said...

Wow, very enlightening. I feel that dietitians are always faced with an uphill battle. And march on we will! Who's MORE qualified on food and nutrition application than RD's!?

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for your comments! March on we will! I look forward to seeing how this conversation evolves as well- as I learn more about how to put what I'm learning into practice! :)

Jme said...

Best post yet! I wish all professions and professionals would take as much pride!

Leandra Hallis M.A. said...

Very provocative post Sybil! This brings up a lot of controversial issues. How do you educate people on healthy food choices when culture is such a strong influence- McDonalds becomes the staple for so many families who don't have time to cook, nor have the money to spend on wholesome healthy foods. I agree that the government should do more in terms of enforcement and legislation. I remember when I was up North in the Cree communities that the only restaurant in town was a greasy fast food joint, that vending machines were everywhere and that grocery stores had almost no supply of fresh produce...

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks Jme- we are a proud bunch, eh?!
Thanks Leandra for your example- the way it is up north highlights the situation really well... it's very sad...
I'd argue that it's not only the "government's" role, but ours- to write to our MPs, to lobby, to advocate. It's almost like we're allowing ourselves to be put into these situations, and feel powerless to do something about it. I think we underestimate our own power....