April 2017 Member Highlight Interview for ASN Nutrition Notes eNewsletter:

Interview with Robert Bertolo, Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Vice Chair of ASN Publications Management Committee, and Immediate Past President of the Canadian Nutrition Society

Dr. Bertolo has been with the Memorial University of Newfoundland since 2002. He trained at the Universities of Guelph and Alberta studying nutrition and metabolism during development with a focus on amino acid and protein nutrition. As a Professor of Nutrition and Metabolism and Canada Research Chair in Human Nutrition, his current research involves the neonatal use of amino acids for growth and non-growth requirements.

1. How did you first get involved in biochemistry and nutrition? What made you interested in the field?

My undergraduate degree was in liberal arts with a minor in biochemistry and when it came time to choose my honours thesis topic, a course in nutritional biochemistry by Stephanie Atkinson piqued my interest. The work in the lab was exciting and that environment felt like home. So I started my MSc at Guelph in nutrition shortly thereafter and never looked back. What I really enjoyed about studying nutrition and metabolism is the combination of mechanisms with real world applicability. Anyone who eats is a self-declared expert in nutrition so the field is uniquely influenced by the public and is very dynamic. There’s always so much to learn, and even more to teach.

2. When and why did you first join ASN? What convinced you to join the organization?

As with most of us, I first joined ASN as a graduate student to get connected with the network of researchers and to present our data. It’s a testament to ASN’s support of trainees that we all join so early. My first EB was an unforgettable experience of excitement, nerves, intellectual stimulation and fun. Presenting to the names on your reference list is quite the experience, but also realizing they’re all just regular folks made it so rewarding. After that first conference, ASN became the home base for networking with international experts and learning about many other disciplines within nutrition.

3. What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful, professionally? What other aspects of your membership do you find useful as your career has progressed?

Probably the most important asset to membership is the networking opportunities with nutritionists from around the world. ASN is the gathering place for nutritionists from around the world and it allows you to learn about peripheral topics in nutrition so you don’t get consumed by your own little niche. A key part of this networking is getting involved in ASN activities including RIS events, committees, judging, etc. That’s really where you meet wonderful people of all career levels and from various disciplines. Many collaborations (and friendships) are started in the hallway between sessions or at a poster or at a break during the committee meetings. The world of research today is all about team effort, so these connections are key to research success.

4. How do you see ASN’s role in the nutrition community?

I was president of Canadian Nutrition Society shortly after it too was formed from the merger of nutritional sciences and clinical nutrition societies. ASN was a model we used to build a community of nutritionists with different goals and priorities. We admired ASN’s ability to grow and be strong, while at the same time taking risks and constantly looking for opportunities. It was because of our similar goals that we established a joint membership opportunity and we continue to collaborate. And beyond Canada, ASN has made it a point to link with many nutrition societies internationally which is a testament to their role as global leaders.

5. Can you tell us more about your current position and the research in which you are involved?

I am full professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, which is on the eastern edge of North America. It is a mid-size university in a beautiful location with a great collaborative atmosphere. For research, I am interested in amino acid metabolism and how it affects requirements in different situations. Currently, I am trying to determine how neonatal nutrition and methyl metabolism affect programming of risk for developing obesity and hypertension. From a nutritional perspective, my question is how much methionine is needed to maintain growth and methylation demands and which pathways take priority when nutrition is inadequate. We have some exciting data on the non-protein pathways of methionine and are able to quantify these fluxes using tracer kinetics. I also have other research on amino acid requirements during intestinal stress, such as in parenteral feeding and short bowel syndrome. Overall, I try to conduct all of my research by building a team of experts to enhance the research questions and outcomes. I feel this is the key to research success.

6. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing nutrition researchers today? Are there any areas where you would like to see more research?

The funding climate has become very difficult, especially for young researchers. There is a short-sighted emphasis to funnel more money to the top researchers which starves the more modest base. I think the key for young nutrition researchers is collaboration and to lead team approaches to big ideas. Don’t be afraid to have someone take you out of your comfort zone; we’re to learn after all. In terms of areas of future research, I think we need more understanding of nutrition behaviours and food environments. We have known for a long time what we should eat to be healthy, but we can’t seem to convince the public to do it. I am also concerned about food insecurity in North America and more work at the policy level is needed resolve this issue. And all of this relates back to the obesity epidemic, which is a very modern issue that has eluded effective solutions.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students and postdocs?

I think the key message for trainees is to get involved. There are many opportunities out there that could lead to something great. Almost none of us foresaw our current path as students and so trying to plan a specific outcome is just not realistic. Get involved in ASN and other societies and meet people. Most of us are where we are after a chance meeting with someone at the right time and that happens by getting out there. So get involved!

Editor’s Note: Under Dr. Bertolo’s leadership, ASN and CNS began offering joint memberships in 2015.

March 2017 Member Highlight Interview for ASN Nutrition Notes eNewsletter:

Interview with Juan Rivera Dommarco, Director of the National Institutes of Public Health (INSP) of Mexico, President of the Latin American Nutrition Society (SLAN), and Executive Board Member of the Ibero-American Nutrition Foundation (FINUT)

Dr. Rivera is the newly appointed Director of the National Institutes of Public Health, where he has been since 1993. There he founded the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health in 2001. He is also Professor of Nutrition in the School of Public Health of Mexico and Adjunct Professor at Emory University. Dr. Rivera has published more than 400 scientific articles, book chapters, and books, and made more than 500 presentations and conferences at scientific events. He is past recipient of the Kellogg International Nutrition Research Award from ASN, granted for active engagement in research to benefit populations in nonindustrialized countries, as demonstrated through publications in the scientific literature, and actively engaged in training new scientists for international nutrition research.

1. How did you first get involved in nutrition epidemiology and research? What made you interested in the field of nutrition science?

My original motivation was poverty and inequity. Most Latin American Countries, including Mexico have profound inequities. Since childhood, I felt social inequalities were morally wrong. During high school, I read several books about social injustice, including Josue de Castro’s recounts of inequity, and a direct indicator of inequity was hunger and undernutrition. After high school, I spent some time in an indigenous community in Chiapas, where I witnessed poverty very closely. That is when I decided to devote my life to fight undernutrition, hunger, and their health effects. My undergraduate training was in nutrition and food sciences at the Universidad Iberoamericana, a Jesuit University in Mexico City with a mystic about poverty alleviation. I did my internship training with Dr. Joaquín Cravioto, a prominent Mexican scientist interested in undernutrition and mental development. He inspired me to become a nutrition scientist. I started reading the works of Scrimshaw, Habicht, and Martorell at INCAP in Guatemala and I corresponded with Jean-Pierre Habicht, who invited me to visit the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. After my visit, I decided to undergo postgraduate training in Nutrition at that University.

2. When and why did you first join ASN? What convinced you to join the organization?

I was first introduced to ASN in 1983, while I was a graduate student at Cornell University, and I officially became a member in 1991. My Committee Chair and mentor, Jean-Pierre Habicht, considered as part of the training of his students to attend the then called FASEB Meetings to present the results of our research. As many other of his students, I joined ASN and attended the meetings.

3. What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful, professionally? What other aspects of your membership do you find useful as your career has progressed?
I appreciate the opportunity to keep up-to-date about new knowledge in the area of global nutrition, along with the high quality of the research results presented and lively discussions at Experimental Biology. I also advocate for ASN journals, in which I have published repeatedly, and I enjoy the opportunity to meet with colleagues and old friends during ASN meetings, where we often discuss new research and explore collaborations. More recently, ASN meetings have exposed my students to high quality works and allowed them to share the results of their studies with other nutrition scientists.

4. What aspects of your research do you foresee being most important for ASN members?

In Mexico, we face the double burden of undernutrition and obesity; therefore, we are conducting research aimed at solving these two problems, which together are of great interest to the Global Nutrition Council and to much of the ASN membership:
 We have been monitoring the magnitude and trends of the double burden of malnutrition in Mexico during the last 30 years through national nutrition surveys.
 We are conducting birth cohort studies looking at the relationship between maternal feeding and weight status and gain during gestation, as well as infant feeding practices and several outcomes at different points in time during childhood and adolescence, including appetite and satiety, growth, weight gain, cardiometabolic risks, and neurodevelopment.
 We are also generating knowledge for the design of policies for the prevention and control of the double burden of malnutrition, including programs for the prevention for stunting, anemia, and micronutrient deficiencies and policies for the prevention and control of obesity, including fiscal measures and school regulations, among others.
 Finally, we are conducting evaluations of the effects of several programs and policies applied by the Government for the prevention and control of the double burden of malnutrition.

5. Can you tell us more about your current position and the research activities in which you are involved?

On February 16, I was appointed as Director General of the Mexican National Public Health Institute (INSP), the research and training institution that houses the Mexican School of Public Health. We conduct research in several public health topics including: nutrition, obesity and non-communicable chronic diseases, infectious diseases, environmental health, health systems research, reproductive health, health promotion, etc. and we offer twenty-eight Masters and PhD programs. We have around 1,200 employees and close to 500 students in three campuses. I am personally involved in the research activities mentioned above: monitoring the double burden in the population, birth cohort studies to assess the effects of infant feeding practices, generation knowledge for the design of policies for the prevention and control of the double burden, and evaluating the effects of some of those policies applied by the Government.

6. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing nutrition researchers today? Are there any areas where you would like to see more research?

One of the biggest challenges in Public Health Nutrition is translating research results into clinical and public health large-scale interventions and their rigorous evaluation for further improvement. To do this we need research from subcellular particles (molecular biology) to programs and policy. This includes linking the wealth of information coming from basic research, particularly from molecular biology, to clinical and public health innovative actions. We also need to study the drivers and determinants of the double burden of malnutrition and its health and environmental consequences using a systems approach, since nutrition problems are multifactorial and complex. We need to understand the food system but also the factors influencing behaviors (food and physical activity). We also need to study how to influence sound policy-making, including the roles of direct advising to policy makers and of social mobilization to generate demand for policy. Finally, we need to conduct rigorous evaluations in order to inform policy makers about improvements in current policies.
March 2017 ASN Nutrition Notes Member Highlight
Interview with Dr. Juan Rivera Dommarco – Page 3

7. Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students and postdocs?

To Students and postdocs: The phrase “First do no harm” (Latin Primum non nocere) is believed to have been part of the original Hippocratic oath taken by physicians. We nutritionists do not take a similar oath, but we should. You have the privilege to be a fraction of people in the world who have access to postgraduate training. You chose Nutritional Sciences, a field that can have a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of people. You should be generous, because life has been generous to you. You should pay back to those in poverty, to the neediest persons in the world, for the privilege to have reached postgraduate training, in an activity that can change the lives of many. However, most importantly, do not harm the nutrition and health of people by promoting or endorsing unhealthy food and beverage products. To the general ASN membership, I would like to invite you to attend the SLAN Congress in Mexico in late 2018, showcasing the best nutrition research from Mexico and Latin America.

Dr. Rivera’s research interests include the epidemiology of stunting (under-nutrition and obesity), the short- and long-term effects of under-nutrition during early childhood, the effects of zinc and other micronutrient deficiencies on growth and health, the study of malnutrition in Mexico, and the design and evaluation of policies and programs to improve nutritional status of populations.

Student Blogger

By Allison Dostal, PhD, RD

Dept. of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

ASN’s immediate Past President Patrick J. Stover, PhD, has been elected as a new member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of his achievements for original science and research in nutrition. In addition to his important work with ASN and the NAS, he directs Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences and maintains an active research program. Through all of these accomplishments, Dr. Stover hasn’t lost sight of the many pitfalls, challenges, and chance happenings that have led him to the successful career he has today. In this interview, Dr. Stover discusses his trajectory from graduate student to ASN’s 2015-2016 president and NAS member and offers valuable insights that both young and established scientists can take to heart.

“Relationships are so important in science. They’re absolutely critical.”

Planning a career after completion of a PhD takes considerable, thought, effort, and not a small amount of stress. And yet, there’s no denying the power of chance and serendipity. For Dr. Stover, attendance of a summer conference in Vermont just one week before defending his dissertation forever changed his career focus. “They had messed up room assignments – I was supposed to room with my PhD advisor, and instead I ended up rooming with chair of nutrition at Berkeley, Barry Shane. My intention was to do a postdoc in crystallography and catalytic antibodies, because my PhD is in biochemistry. But I got that room assignment, and Barry and I just got along so well that week. I kept trying to find my thesis to do my thesis corrections, but he kept taking it with him because he wanted to read it. I changed my postdoc plans and went to Berkeley in nutrition. That’s really how I got introduced to nutrition – through that gratuitous error in roommate assignments.”

When asked what he believed his greatest career accomplishment to be, Dr. Stover immediately responded, “Oh, that’s easy. The greatest accomplishment is finding and working with some absolutely wonderful collaborators and mentors. This also includes students. The successes have always been finding the right people to work with that enable you to address the important questions, of both scientific importance but also public health importance.”

Stover was trained as a metabolic biochemist when he first started his faculty position, with an interest in folate metabolism. He soon realized that the most important questions that matched his interests were related to fundamental mechanisms of the role of folate in birth defect prevention. “We knew it worked; we didn’t know why it worked. And going out and finding people who were experts in embryonic development or an expert in cancer, and being able to work with…people who were experts in these other areas who didn’t know about or weren’t familiar with the science that I knew, [we were able to] put those two together and solve interesting problems and learn new techniques.”

“All good research starts with an interesting, important question.”

This concept is “absolutely paramount” for young scientists to understand as they enter a research career, Stover says. Along with this, “You really have to love what you do. You have to love asking these questions and love doing research.” After having this foundation and investment in the work of discovery, the next step is ensuring that one has the proper training, tools, and collaborators to be able to address the important question at hand.

“You have to collaborate. You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know what you don’t know and who you need to work with to be successful.”

Dr. Stover acknowledged that today, a lot of the important questions that many of us are interested in require multidisciplinary approaches and collaborative work, because these problems require different perspectives, tools, and techniques.

He also mentioned that throughout the years, ASN’s Graduate Nutrition Education Committee had written pieces about the importance of being an expert in something, but also having a broad knowledge base. “You have to be deep in what your expertise is – your disciplinary expertise and your technical expertise. But that’s not enough to address many of the important public health problems and the important scientific questions we have.”

Dr. Stover also recognized the increasing importance of communicating our science to other researchers and the general public. “A lot of us increasingly have to be well aware that what we’re interested in, and what excites us, has to be effectively communicated to external audiences so that they’re excited to support our work, [and to] the federal government so they’re excited to fund our work”.

Many of the issues Stover has had to navigate as a scientist are not unlike those that concern young investigators today. When discussing the biggest challenge that he’s had to face in his career, he emphasized the difficult transition from focused researcher to faculty member. “As academic faculty…we get our positions because we’ve been good at research. And then we get these faculty positions and we get put in offices, and we get asked to teach, and we get asked to manage personnel, and get asked to manage budgets and do some administration, for which we are utterly unqualified and untrained for, for the most part. I think being an assistant professor is really, really tough.” He noted vast improvements in career training tools since he first became an assistant professor in 1994, highlighting ASN’s workshops on effective teaching, mentoring, and skill sets needed for professional development.

As he continues to amass accolades and respect for his scientific career, Dr. Stover shows no sign of slowing down. When asked about the nutrition science-related goals he would like to achieve, he offered insight for both his own research program and for ASN. “In my own work, we continue to be really interested in the molecular basis of pathology related to folate metabolism, because we’re very interested in how folate requirements differ among individuals and how those affect important endpoints like genome stability and gene expression.” He also spoke about improving nutritional approaches to address diseases such as neuropathy, cancers, and neural tube defects, all of which are tied into folate’s role in human health. “We want to provide an engineering approach to understand how these things work and how nutrition throughout the life cycle can be used to improve the quality of life and wellness of life.”

He also intends on having a broader impact. Stover acknowledged that the number of ASN members elected into the National Academy of Sciences is very small, despite the excellent work produced by nutrition researchers that belong to ASN. “We need to get more outstanding nutrition scientists into greater visibility. I want to really work for that as well.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

USDA Logo
By: R. Alex Coots, Student Blogger

The below interview is a continuation of an interview with Angela Tagtow, Executive Director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the USDA. Part 1 of this interview can be found here.

Tell me about the challenges of nutrition policy.

I imagine health policy falling into one of two categories, little-p policy (LPP) or big-p policy (BPP). LPP is a socioecological approach to policy, using individuals and organizations to make decisions to improve public health that don’t require an elected official. BPP requires elected officials to create broader, more top-down initiatives to improve public health. Both types of policy working in concert can create greater collective impact.

Many people see BPP as the primary driver of policy, but LPP can be very effective to improve community health. The Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative exemplifies the power of LPP. Through the initiative they recruited hundreds of community stakeholders to make commitments to improve public health whether that is at home, school, workplace or throughout the community. Starting the initiative was a slow process built on networking and strengthening relationships, but proved to make an impact in the lives of community members.

BPP also creates change, but has its own challenges. It can take several years for State or Federal programs to be fully implemented. For example, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law back in 2010, and we’re still seeing elements roll out. At the Federal level, Congress is another aspect that makes BPP challenging. Each Congressperson has a different perspective and set of values with respect to healthy food access, nutrition, public health. The ability to recognize their priorities and influencers is an important part of building support behind an initiative.

Given the number of different opinions and interests regarding public health, do you think there’s a way to make everyone happy?

There’s always going to be struggle. Every organization out there has a set of goals that are different from the next organization. Industry has an interest to protect its products and public health has an interest to keep people healthy. These goals are not always aligned, so there are challenges.

The media often reports on about industry trying to make changes to their offerings in the name of public health. Do you think these efforts are genuine?

Not all industry should be discounted. Some companies do consider how their products and services contribute to public health and are trying to make a difference. But for others, they need to evaluate whether they are doing all that they could be doing.

 

What are some of the future goals for the USDA and the CNPP?

The CNPP does much more than just produce the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and the iconic MyPlate. The Nutrition Evidence Library, a very rigorous review of the literature that directly informs the DGA. The CNPP also makes many tools and online resources available to assist individuals with eating and physical activity goals. ChooseMyPlate.gov and Supertracker.usda.gov are dynamic online resources for individual, families and professionals that put the Dietary Guidelines for Americans into action.

In the near term, the launch of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act are the top priorities. Some policymakers are challenging the validity of improving child health, and the House and Senate have inserted language in appropriation bills that will restrict USDA and HHS’s  abilities to create the Dietary Guidelines. It’s a very interesting political time regarding advancing the nutritional health of Americans.

Do you have any final advice for students?

Yes, be engaged. Having a good grasp of the content knowledge and political processes are good, but having contacts and networks is just as important. Knowing key people who create change and understanding how to work with them will allow you to be more effective in your endeavors. We need more people to get engaged with nutrition and public health efforts.

By Seth Morrison

My name is Seth Morrison, a final year medical student at the Medical School for International Health in Israel. I would like to share with you a taste of my experiences in the ASN’s unique Clinical Nutrition Internship.

Clinical nutrition was never really on my radar as something I might become interested in until halfway through medical school. It was then that I attended the International Congress of Nutrition held in Granada, Spain, where I met some members of the ASN. Like most medical students, the nutrition content in my courses was only enough to whet my appetite. I never had a chance to really delve into nutrition in-depth so that I would feel comfortable counselling patients or speaking intelligently about it with colleagues. The ICN conference opened my eyes to the many different research branches of the nutrition sciences as well as public health nutrition. The global trends in the “double burden” of malnutrition (undernutrition and overnutrition) in developing countries began to worry me, and I started learning about the many efforts that are underway to intervene. All of this made me want to find an opportunity to supplement my nascent interest in nutrition, and see which career avenues exist. I would like to incorporate nutrition into my medical practice and possibly conduct public health nutrition interventions in resource-limited settings worldwide. That is when I discovered this clinical nutrition internship.

I think my internship was an unparalleled opportunity for a medical student to get an insider’s look into the fascinating world of clinical nutrition and nutrition science. The variety of opportunities I had at the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado working with Dr. Nancy Krebs as my mentor gave me the ability to look at the role of nutrition in health from many different angles. I saw how important clinical nutrition is in the weekly outpatient clinics at Children’s Hospital. There were two separate clinics for kids with either growth faltering or obesity. These clinics are where I spent a great deal of my time. Throughout that time, I gradually gleaned the beauty in which skilled nutrition practitioners were able to make a real difference in outcomes as a team. Other physicians in these clinics, along with the amazing nutritionists, nurses, and a clinical psychologist, each contributed to my education in unique ways. They taught me the decision-making process of how to decipher clues to the causes of very different clinical nutrition problems (i.e. overweight vs. underweight), whether they be organic, lifestyle-related, or sometimes, in the case of young children, family food-related behaviors. This created the immensely enjoyable opportunity to decipher solutions to these myriad problems with clinical judgement and a creativity that respects the patient’s/family’s abilities and interests. I like to say today that in order to provide effective dietary counselling to patients, each doctor should have a little bit of a nutritionist inside them. This skill is one of the greatest gifts that the internship provided me for my own toolbox of clinical skills.

A sampling of the other components of my internship that made it very well-rounded were a research project, visits to WIC clinics, family eating well classes, several journal clubs and special nutrition lectures every week, and even a few nutrition-related Grand Rounds on Friday afternoons. I also completed a research project, which was a small metabolomics study on the relative serum levels of acylcarnitines and branched-chain amino acids in lean vs. obese groups of pregnant Guatemalan women.

This research component of the internship added an essential ingredient to the overall experience. Not only did I get to work with a fantastic and knowledgeable basic science researcher on a project in a burgeoning field of nutrition science (metabolomics), I also gained new skills and refined others that are needed in any research project I may become involved with in the future. This academic component reinforced the ever-present need for an army of researchers to inform the nutritional counsel given to patients in clinical medicine.

Inpatient care in the University of Colorado Hospital especially gave me the chance to see how crucial proper nutrition is for pre- and post-operative patients, burn unit patients, and of course in critical care. The nutrition support physician and the knowledgeable dietitians there broadened my knowledge of TPN and other topics in critical care nutrition research. In doing so, the truth was ingrained in me that nutrition is dynamic and can, in different circumstances, be prevention, treatment, or even both. Whether a patient is acutely ill or on a path of long term lifestyle change to reach a healthy weight, nutrition is likely to play an important role in their success!

The ASN Clinical Nutrition Internship satiated a special hunger for this nutrition niche in my medical education. I could not be more grateful and proud to have been awarded this unique opportunity, and the memories from it will linger with me for the rest of my career. As a soon-to-be physician, I’ve now learned that nutrition is a bit like music. It’s nice to listen to, but to really appreciate it, you must also learn to play some of your own notes.

 

By Chris Radlicz

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, which she has chaired from 1988-2003. Additionally, she is Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. Dr. Nestle earned her PhD in molecular biology and MPH from University of California, Berkeley. Her research examines scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choice, obesity, and food safety, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing. She is the author of several prize-winning books, and in her latest, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning), Dr. Nestle provides insight on the soda industries tactics to gain consumers and addresses what is now working in the fight against ‘Big Soda’. I recently had the opportunity to ask Dr. Nestle some questions relevant to her newest book.

1. How has your background in molecular biology lead you to your career interest in public health, and particularly food politics?

The direct story is that I was teaching undergraduate molecular and cell biology in the Biology Department at Brandeis University and was assigned a nutrition course to teach. Undergraduate biology majors wanted a course in human biology and it was my turn to take one on. From the first day I started preparing that course, it was like falling in love. I’ve never looked back. Politics was in the course from day one. It’s not possible to understand how people eat without understanding the social, economic, and political environment of food marketing and food choice.

2. What lead you to write your newest book, “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)”?

I’ve been writing about soda marketing since the late 1990s when I learned about “pouring rights” contracts–soda company arrangements with educational institutions for exclusive sale of their brand. These started with colleges but had just gotten to elementary schools when I learned about them.  Since then, I’ve followed Coke and Pepsi marketing with great interest.  I teach food politics and food advocacy at NYU and was well aware of all the advocacy groups working to reduce soda intake as a public health measure.  When my agent suggested that I ought to write a book about sodas, it seemed like a terrific idea to encourage readers to engage in advocacy for healthier food systems.  Sodas are a good example of how to do this.

3. The title is provocative. Why do you say that those taking on ‘Big Soda’ are in fact ‘winning’?

That’s the best part.  Soda sales are way down in the United States. The soda industry thinks public health advocacy is responsible, and who am I to argue?

4. What has influenced the slow but successful decline in soda consumption seen today?

Excellent public health advocacy. Think of New York City’s poster campaigns over the last four or five years. These illustrated the amount of sugar in sodas and how far you would have to walk to work off the calories in one vending machine soda

5. The Coca-Cola funded non-profit, “Global Energy Balance Network”, recently shut its doors. Do you think this is evidence of gaining momentum?

Reporters from the New York Times and the Associated Press were shocked to discover that Coca-Cola was funding university research to demonstrate that physical activity is more effective than eating healthfully in preventing weight gain.  This idea is patently false. Investigations revealed that the researchers worked closely with Coca-Cola executives to craft the research, conduct it, interpret it, publish it, and present it at meetings. This too seemed shocking. Now Coca-Cola is scrutinizing who it supports and many organizations know they need to be more careful to avoid such conflicts of interest.

6. In what ways do you see parallels in tactics used by ‘Big Soda’ and those previously used by cigarette companies in defending their respective products?

Soda is not tobacco but the tactics sure look similar. The soda industry follows the tobacco industry’s playbook to the letter. It too attacks inconvenient science, buys loyalty, funds front groups, lobbies behind the scenes to get what it wants, and spends fortunes to oppose public health measure that might reduce soda intake.

7. Where can people follow your current work and get involved in this fight against ‘Big Soda’?

I write an (almost) daily blog at www.foodpolitics.com where I cover such issues. Soda Politics has an Appendix that lists the principal advocacy groups working on soda issues and provides links to their websites.  It’s easy to get involved in food advocacy and well worth the time.

By: R. Alex Coots

The field of nutrition is diverse. Some nutrition researchers pursue their work to better understand human metabolism, while others seek to help people build healthy eating habits. Despite the different approaches in their research programs, nutrition researchersall aim to improve public health. But simply producing the information isn’t enough. The entirety of scientific knowledge must be evaluated and used to create effective policies to fully realize the benefits of nutrition research.

Angela Tagtow, Executive Director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the USDA, continues an illustrious career in health promotion at the USDA. She’s worked in nutrition, public health and food systems at levels ranging from local initiatives to international endeavors. She and I had a conversation about her career, her advice for students interested in policy, and her thoughts on the challenges of policy work.

How did you get your start in nutrition and policy?

Growing up, food and meals were very important in my family. We maintained a large garden which provided diverse foods for our day-to-day meals. In college I had an intense interest in health promotion, but clinical dietetics was focused on treatment rather than prevention of illness. Health promotion at the time was nascent but I saw the potential and oriented my life towards it.

After graduation from college I started work at the American Heart Association as a program director. This position helped build out my network and gave me my start in the health promotion world, however I quickly realized I’d need graduate-level training to take my career further. After graduate school I started work as a consultant in the WIC program at the Iowa Department of Public Health. Here I worked more broadly in the public health domain with a variety of groups such as the county boards of health and Title V Maternal and Child Health Services.

After 9 years, I decided to expand my areas of expertise to include food systems as well as public health and nutrition. I founded a consulting company where I provided education, informed policy, and developed communication tools around health, the environment, and food systems. After 9 years of consulting, I moved back to government to work at the CNPP.

What are the key lessons or skills that you took away from these endeavors?

Consulting work affords you a good deal of flexibility in the types of work that you take on. I was able to broaden my skillsets, increase my knowledge base, and diversify my network in ways that I wouldn’t have been afforded in government. Consulting does have a bit more uncertainty with respect to job security. A career in government is a much different experience. The scope of the work is more defined and the position is more secure compared to consulting, but it may be difficult to advance upward.

The key skillsets that today’s students should focus on are critical thinking, communication, and engagement. As dietitians and nutritionists, we need to feel comfortable being assertive and asking the difficult questions. Of these three skills, engagement and networking are the hardest to teach. Students should continually practice this skill throughout their careers. Networking is something that takes time and is an ongoing learning experience.

When creating nutrition policy, are particular data or data types more useful than others?

All of the different data types must be considered, especially systematic reviews and randomly controlled trials. We need to be looking at the preponderance of data to reach a conclusion, not create policy based on one particular study or study type, as each type of study has strengths and weaknesses. After evaluation of the data, we have to be able to translate the body of research into appropriate policy or interventions. Policy is like a puzzle and data are the pieces.

Do you feel that there’s siloing of academic fields, and that crosstalk can improve health outcomes?

There’s still some siloing of research topics, but there has been improvement. Some land grant institutions with great agricultural research programs focus on food production or food processing issues, but this work is not necessarily connected to the greater picture of human health. Some schools have recognized this issue and have started interdisciplinary programs aimed towards interconnectivity – programs in food systems is a good example. People have recognized the value of an integrated approach, but it’s a process that takes time to develop.

Part 2 of this interview will be posted in my next entry.

By Allison Dostal, PhD, RD

The relationship between nutrition and health is fully entrenched in the mainstream media – everyone from career scientists to our next door neighbor seems to be an expert on the topic. Trained health professionals and researchers do our best to deliver credible information, but it’s all too easy for clear messages to get lost in the constant stream of 30-second sound bites.

Dr. Andrew Brown, a Scientist with the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) & Office of Energetics, is focusing his current work on illuminating common misconceptions in the field of nutrition and increasing awareness of media perspectives and biases. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions related to research integrity, science communication, and being a part of the next generation of nutrition researchers and educators working to effectively deliver nutrition information in the Digital Age.

Tell us about your work with NORC and the Office of Energetics.

The majority of my work is in the field of meta-research, which can involve investigating what was studied, why it was studied, and how it was studied. In addition to the more common forms of meta-research, like systematic reviews and meta-analyses, I look at the way that research is conducted, the quality of reporting, analytical choices during statistical analysis, and from where nutritional zeitgeist comes despite little strong empirical evidence.

How did you become interested in calling attention to myths, presumptions, and reporting accuracy of nutrition research?

As a student studying lipid chemistry, I noted that most lipid biochemists (as well as many others) recognized that dietary cholesterol had little impact on blood cholesterol, and yet cholesterol-containing foods were demonized. During my doctoral degree, I attended the Office of Dietary Supplements’ Research Practicum, where I anticipated learning what was and was not known about the health impacts of dietary supplements. Instead, and to my benefit, much of the talk was about limitations of current research, regulatory limitations, and differences in philosophies about how diet – and particularly supplements – could be studied. Claims about dietary cholesterol and supplements are just some of the dietary beliefs that are either completely refuted by our best science or at best weakly supported; yet, many people within and beyond the nutrition science community believe them. Thus my interest is at least two fold. The first is trying to determine which beliefs I hold that are not supported by the evidence, such as the relationship between eating/skipping breakfast and obesity. The other is to help communicate the state of science to hopefully decrease confusion.

With the attention that your research group is calling to this movement, how do you see publication and the media’s attention to nutrition changing in the next 5-10 years?

I am optimistic that nutrition science will continue to improve, including more discussions of the nuances of nutrition science rather than speaking in absolutes. If we ‘know’ that sugar is bad, or polyunsaturated fats are good, or that breakfast prevents obesity, then there is nothing left to study. Because of human heterogeneity within ever-changing local and global environments, it is unlikely that there is one diet or one set of recommendations that is appropriate for everyone and every situation, even for essential nutrients. Population-level recommendations are great place-holders until we develop more refined recommendations for individuals, subgroups, food-types, food-compositions, and other aspects of diet.

In a recent ASN blogger interview with Paul Coates, the Director of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, he stated with regard to the aging of the nutrition researcher population, “A fairly urgent challenge is identifying people who can come up behind us and continue to identify opportunities for research—particularly those that have public health implications— and be committed to help tackle them.” What are your thoughts on strategies for engaging young nutrition researchers in scientific discourse? How can young researchers take part in a dialogue with fellow scientists, the media, and the public to improve communication and perception of nutrition research?

I think we need to keep our eyes open for promising individuals that we can trust to think scientifically and ethically, and help them grow in a tailored way. The increased use of Individual Development Plans seems to be a great step in this direction, as is putting a maximum number of years on post-doctoral training, with the idea that a post-doctoral position is for additional training, not for an indefinite job. I have been extremely fortunate to have had mentors that gave me opportunities to speak, develop ideas, and truly contribute to teams and discussions throughout my formal education, as early as my freshman year. I was encouraged to write grants, publish, and complete other essential activities in the business of science, but my mentors focused very much on teaching me how to ask scientific questions; read the existing literature; develop critical scientific thinking skills; communicate with precision; and conduct good science.

On the side of mentees and students, I think it is important to be inquisitive while being willing to admit if you don’t know something. Stating confidently something that is false is a great way to lose trust and be excluded from the discussion. Instead, ask for clarification; add information to the conversation that might be useful; and, most importantly, don’t force yourself into discussions just to be noticed.

I also think it is important to move away from research focusing so heavily on public health (with the full disclosure that I work in a School of Public Health). Improvements in the public’s health is a noble and lofty goal, but to come into a study with the assumption that the outcome will result in an improvement in public health (particularly the entire population’s health) encourages overstating of results, misinterpretation of data, and doubling-down on dietary preconceptions. In science, the focus needs to be on determining some form of objective truth or lawful relationship. If we can identify these truths and relationships, then ways to improve public health will become self-evident, with the understanding that policy decisions are based on value structures beyond scientific evidence.

What advice do you have for graduate students and early career investigators?

Make sure you are doing something you love, that you do it to the best of your ability, and that you do it with the highest integrity. Be sure anything you put your name to is something that you are willing to take credit for, but also understand that this means you will be responsible for shortcomings of the work if problems are discovered later. And always be willing to entertain and evaluate an idea, especially one you disagree with or find unpalatable; these could be the very ideas that lead you to new lines of work, may help you better communicate your ideas to those who disagree with you, or might even overturn your entire view on a subject. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Interview with NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Director Dr. Paul Coates

By: R. Alex Coots

Academia is changing.

Today’s universities increasingly rely on adjunct faculty to teach courses and reserve the coveted full-time academic position for the science superstars. This phenomenon, coupled with decreasing paylines from funding agencies, makes a science career especially challenging to pursue. And that’s not even considering the project difficulties!

The problem has become so pressing that even the NIH has realized it. New initiatives, such as the BEST Innovation Award, aim to ensure that graduate students and post-docs have increased opportunities to expand their skill sets for a future outside of academia.

Policy is one of the many areas that nutrition experts can serve. The current Director of the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), Dr. Paul Coates, successfully made the transition from bench research as a geneticist to a career in science policy. He spoke with me about his career and transition to ODS.

What motivated your interest into policy?
I was curious. For all these years, I had been funded to do research by the NIH and other organizations, but what I concentrated most on was my own research. I was pretty naïve when I came to the NIH, not knowing what life was like for people who worked on the government side. There were plenty of them like me, PhD’s in one setting or another, who had come to the NIH to work as extramural program directors.

What are the important skills or knowledge that someone should have when moving into policy?
One of the things I understood was the importance of making connections. My first job at the NIH was focusing on diabetes research efforts. I learned how to work with other people within an institute, and then gradually in other institutes and beyond to achieve common goals. I think the art of science policy is knowing who else works in this field that you can benefit from, and flip it around and ask “How can I help other people benefit from working together with them?” Recognize the talent that’s out there in other organizations.

What advice would you give to students?
You need to pay your dues as a scientist first. You need to understand the scientific method. You don’t have to spend an eternity in science, but you must have spent some time doing it. Author publications and write grants. My observation is that the people best prepared for this kind of experience “get it” about what a scientist does. They must be prepared to critically analyze data and know what to look for in the literature to inform policy.

What types of projects do the AAAS and Milner fellows work on?
The AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship is beautifully designed to encourage people at different levels of experience in science to work closely with federal agencies to learn about the science-to-policy transition. In ODS, we’re recent partners in that program. Fellows are engaged in projects that my office works on. We have a very active role in translating science into policy, but also in identifying research needs.

The Milner fellowship has a different side to it. Jointly funded by ODS and the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, the Milner fellowship brings in one or two people per year for a two-year stint that will allow them to conduct research in one of the labs at Beltsville. At the same time, they participate at ODS in work on science policy.

How do you see ODS changing in the future?
ODS is getting a little older. A fairly urgent challenge is identifying people who can come up behind us and continue to identify opportunities for research—particularly those that have public health implications— and be committed to help tackle them.

Becoming an Expert: Easy as 1, 2, 3 (Almost)
By Debbie Fetter

As part of ASN’s Scientific Sessions, the ASN Young Professional Interest Group (YPIG) organized a session called, “Establishing Yourself as an Expert.” I (virtually) sat down with the co-chairs, Eric D. Ciappio, PhD, RD and Mary N. Lesser, PhD, RD, to get more insight into the presentations.

Q. What was the purpose of the session?

A. The purpose of this session was to provide some guidance to early career professionals looking to establish themselves as experts in their specific corners of nutrition science. We heard from four respected experts in different areas of nutrition who helped young scientists understand best practices for communication and interacting with colleagues.

Q. What did it address?

A. While technical knowledge is important, another large part of being an expert in nutrition is being viewed as one by your peers in the field. This session addressed this latter point and aimed to help young professionals develop their communication skills to help them become viewed as experts in the field. We split this topic into two main themes, which we referred to as “internal communication” and “external communication.” The “external communication” bucket focused on communicating with the broader field of nutrition via academic publications and social media – both of which are demonstrated essentials for early career professionals in the modern age. The “internal communication” bucket addressed methods to improve in-person interactions with your colleagues, both in one-on-one settings as well as finding ways to guide a group of strong scientific minds to a consensus opinion.

Q. What were the main takeaways for the attendees?

A. We believe the largest takeaway was that effective communication is the most important career skill that we never think about. As scientists, we can often become so focused on increasing our technical knowledge and expertise that we forget about the human element of the profession. Nurturing working relationships with colleagues is an essential skill early career professionals need to develop to enhance and to continue to advance in their careers.

Q. What are your personal do’s and don’ts for advancing your career? Or which were your favorites from the session?

A. EC: I think taking time to establish personal connections with your colleagues is the best thing you can do for your career. Your professional network is probably the most valuable piece of portable currency you have, and growing that network benefits both your organization (regardless of whether you are in academia, industry, government, etc.) and your own career.

A. ML: Definitely taking the time to establish meaningful, personal connections with your colleagues, no matter what capacity (mentor, mentee, faculty, staff, student, etc.) is key. These are the individuals whom you will be working alongside and will be your resources or source of support in a variety of settings. Also, never underestimate the value of a good “thank you” and paying it forward.

Q. How does it seem social media will change science communications?

A. Social media offers an opportunity to be a part of the conversation on nutrition. While academic publications are a mainstay of scientific discourse among scientists, the public discussion of science – particularly nutrition science – takes place much more rapidly than the traditional academic publication model allows. Social media also engages the public in a way that traditional publications never have. With so much public interest in nutrition there is incredible value in being a credible and accurate source of information that can effectively engage the public to help educate them about the relationship between diet and health. Effectively utilizing social media offers a platform for nutrition scientists (early or more advanced in their careers) to do just that.

Q. What are some key ways to work together as a group? Is it always possible to come to a group consensus?

A. Once again, effective communication is the key. In her session, Dr. King stressed the importance of clearly outlining the goals of the group and taking time to understand each person’s stance on the issues up for discussion. Finding a way that pleases all parties with conflicting opinions may not always be possible, but respectful communication and compromise can help guide the group to remain productive and conclude with a census or working census outcome.

Q. Why is it important to have good working relationships with your colleagues? How do you manage a good working relationship with someone who has conflicting opinions from you?

A. Having strong working relationships with your colleagues is not only a way to accomplish your daily professional goals, but also the best way to move your career forward. We learn about so many opportunities – potential jobs, speaking engagements, serving on committees – from our colleagues. And while having a solid relationship with someone may not always be enough to land you that opportunity, more often than not, having a poor relationship with a colleague in a position to help you is almost certain to be a hindrance. If you have a colleague who you just cannot see eye to eye with on a work issue, do your best to keep your emotions in control and take the time to try and understand what your colleague’s goals and motivations are. Do not be afraid to seek the guidance of a mentor who can act as a sounding board to ensure that you are not overreacting to the issue and provide guidance on how to proceed forward in interacting with this particular colleague.

Q. What does being an “expert” mean to you?

A. EC: Being an expert is a combination of having both a strong technical knowledge base and an ability to engage your colleagues and community. You need to be a source of accurate information and good ideas, but putting your thoughts into action requires working with your colleagues effectively.

A. ML: Being an expert to me means having a strong knowledge base in your area of research, education, etc. but also being able to contribute to conversations/collaborations with your colleagues and the community as a whole. To echo Eric’s above comment, you do need to be a source of accurate information and ideas, but effectively communicating your knowledge and ideas into action requires working with your colleagues.

Thank you both for a wonderful recap of this session. Now we are all ready to go out in the world and establish ourselves as experts!

Thanks to DuPont Nutrition & Health and PepsiCo for educational grants in support of this session.