There has never been a more important time to be an advocate for nutrition and its role in preventing the many chronic diseases that afflict our country. Once a year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics holds a Public Policy Workshop (PPW) where they invite registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) from across the nation to learn about advocacy and participate in Hill visits with their states’ legislators. I had the honor of receiving a scholarship from the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to attend this year’s PPW in Washington, D.C. This powerful and energizing event starts before you even reach D.C. with a series of 5 webinars that take you on a crash course in effective advocacy and brief you on the issues you will be addressing in your Hill visits. The real fun begins when you arrive in Washington. This year 350 RDNs from all 50 states attended PPW to represent the profession and advocate for the services RDNs provide. The first day includes a workshop that recaps what was discussed in the webinars and gives you an opportunity to meet your fellow state constituents. Together you share stories and formulate how you will present the issues to your legislators the next day. Most meetings are structured in a way that they are conversational but still have the following structure to them:

  1. Clearly state your reason for being there
  2. Provide facts and data that support your cause
  3. Share a personal story
  4. Ask them what you would like them to do
  5. Send a follow-up email within a few days

What surprised me most about this structure was the inclusion of a personal story. But the saying goes, “Data makes you credible, stories make you memorable.” During the Hill visits, I found this absolutely to be true. Personal stories were more relatable and tugged on the heartstrings in a way that reinforced what we were asking the legislators to do.

I had the privilege of meeting with staff members from the offices of Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jason Lewis (R-MN), as well as Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). This year’s advocacy work at PPW revolved around two very important topics:

  1. Nutrition education programs in the Farm Bill

What is the issue? 75% of Americans have a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables, which strongly correlates to their risk of developing a chronic disease. A large contributor to poor fruit and vegetable intake is food insecurity and access to affordable nutritious foods. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the leading national program in providing nutrition support for families that have food insecurity. In addition to the SNAP program, the Farm Bill authorizes funding toward nutrition education programs, like the SNAP Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). These two programs provide funding for local nutrition education initiatives that are designed to meet the needs of the local population.

What did we ask? We asked legislators to fully fund SNAP-Ed and EFNEP in the 2018 Farm Bill.

  1. Value of Nutrition Services in Prevention

What is the issue? Currently, U.S. healthcare costs are $9,990 per person, rendering 3.2 trillion dollars annually. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are the leading chronic diseases that contribute to annual healthcare costs. These diseases can be managed or even prevented with evidence-based nutrition interventions provided by trained RDNs. However, insurance companies are not required to provide coverage for nutrition services that have been proven to prevent the onset of these diseases. Currently, Medicare only covers outpatient nutrition services for diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and kidney replacement.

What did we ask? We asked legislators to ensure coverage for nutrition services for all nutrition-related chronic diseases.

On my way back to Minnesota, I reflected on the wonderful connections I made with RDNs from many different states, the stories I heard about the work they do, and the meetings I had with legislator’s staff. After my experience at PPW 2017, I know that advocacy will be a large part of my endeavors when I become a RDN. As Donna Martin, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics President-elect, said, “If dietetics is your profession, make policy your passion.” If you even have the slightest interest in advocacy, I urge you to get involved with American Society for Nutrition and other professional organization’s advocacy efforts. You will be happy you did.




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 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.