Experimental Biology 2017: Restoring Relevancy of Nutrition Expertise in the Current Food Movement

With the rise in technology, information is at our fingertips–literally. Concurrent with the technology boom, more and more people are paying attention to their health and food. This combination has led to mass food movements, changes in food policy, and more. But, who exactly is driving this push for change? What role can nutrition experts play in food movements? This is what the International Food Information Council (IFIC) addressed during their session “Restoring Relevancy of Nutrition Expertise in the Current Food Movement,” which was hosted by the ASN Nutrition Translation RIS and supported by Tate and Lyle.

Kris Sollid, RD, Senior Director of Nutrition Communications at IFIC, began by presenting findings about food trends and the key drivers of consumer’s food and beverage choices from IFIC’s annual Food and Health Survey. One main finding was that consumers want more transparency. However, recent data from Pew Research Center found that many Americans turn to social media for their news. This means many look to social media platforms when seeking information about food. Intuitively, the nutrition experts should be the ones driving the ship when it comes to key food issues. Alarmingly, according to an ASN member survey, many nutrition experts and researchers felt it was actually the media and television personalities driving the food conversation. This opening set the stage for the session, which focused on encouraging us, as nutrition experts, to get out in the field and use our expertise to steer the food movement using evidence-based research.

Melissa Kinch, Partner and Director, Ketchum West, took the stage next to use her expertise in public relations to teach us how to reach the public. As scientists, we’re taught to gather the data and facts, build a case, and share the findings. In today’s age, we should work on drawing people in with a “hot start” and then use analogies and visuals to make it relatable. Then, wrap up with sharing the data and facts as support. Kinch says, “Digestible science simplifies without talking down.” Her key recommendations were to avoid using jargon and technical terms, listen and embrace, and to show empathy to consumers. Then, work to find common ground, include visuals, analogies, metaphors, and examples, share personal stories, and show your passion. Kinch voices that we need science and technology to drive the future of food to solve our problems, but there’s a growing narrative of fearing science and food that we have to work to overcome.

Mark Haub, PhD, Professor and Department Head at Kansas State University, and Kavin Senapathy, freelance science writer and public speaker, were brought to the stage to share their experiences with science and the media and then partake in a panel discussion. Haub was the subject of a class project gone wrong when the media approached him after they got wind of his “junk food diet.” Haub followed his “junk food diet” for 10 weeks and lost weight due to the calorie deficit. However, the media twisted the story and he became known as the “twinkie doctor” and headlines appeared touting that you can eat junk and still lose weight. He wanted us to learn from his experience with the media and offered invaluable advice for how to effectively work with the media. Haub encouraged us to think about the media’s goal (click bait) and our goal (to educate) and told us “If you want to drive your message, you have to be the leader, otherwise people will take it for you.”

Kavin Senapthy shared her extensive expertise with bridging the information gap between the science and public, working with the press, and using social media. Senapthy urged us to integrate information within the context of social content and values to resonate with the public. Misinformation is often shared across social media, and usually it’s from people with good intentions. She reiterated that when you see something inflammatory on social media, it’s important to keep the middle ground in mind. People are so used to arguing with “trolls” on the Internet that it’s easy to forget there’s reasonable people simply observing the social interaction, which they may then use to base their decision-making process. She told us, “It’s important to be aware of context, your overall message, and who you’re communicating with.”

Megan Meyer, PhD, Director of Science Communications at IFIC, concluded the session by talking about ways to communicate science effectively. She expressed, “Values and social networks play a key role in influencing behavior change.” This is why credentialed experts need to become the trusted and influential source. IFIC has been working on projects to disseminate credible science to the public. One recent project was a compilation of memes that are “thank you notes to food science” that coincided with the March for Science. IFIC also maintains a “Fast Take” blog series where current studies getting a lot of media attention are written in a consumer-friendly way while staying true to the science. Their “Sound Science” blog series provides information about new, credible studies that may not have gotten as much media attention. We are living in the cornerstone for the intersection between technology and scientific communication and there is much more to come.

Key Takeaways:

  • Take advantage of media training opportunities
  • Harness your elevator pitch
  • Get on social media (including ASN Nutrilink!) and interact with others; follow others with differing opinions
  • Pay attention to pop culture and food trends
  • Have a content focus
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, everything will be okay
  • Have as many conversations as you can with people that aren’t science-based
  • Practice!
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