For four months, I had the incredible opportunity of interning at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - Policy Initiatives and Advocacy (PIA) Office in Washington, D.C. Did your forehead just crinkle because you didn’t know the Academy had a policy office? No worries! Many nutrition professionals, students, and interns are surprised to learn that the Academy extends beyond headquarters in Chicago. You may have already crossed paths without knowing. Those reminders about action alerts and invitations to attend the annual Nutrition and Dietetics Advocacy Summit… yep, that’s the D.C. office! They engage in grassroots advocacy, federal legislation, regulations, and so much more.
I happened to be interning at a time when Senator Roberts announced he wanted Child Nutrition Reauthorization, last reauthorized as the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, to be a top priority for the summer. After all, it’s going on 5 years overdue. Those four months are a blissful blur. My supervisor and I attended meetings on the Hill with staffers, sat in on congressional hearings and briefings, collaborated on bills which were introduced by Congress, and were a part of important off-the-record discussions. The Academy is part of a strong network of associations working together toward a common goal in D.C., including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Share Our Strength, Trust for America’s Health, Bipartisan Policy Center, Feeding America, Food Research and Action Center, and Food Corps, to name just a few. That is just a small preview of their great work.
The Academy’s PIA Office works tirelessly to promote our profession, fight for strong nutrition standards, and support evidenced-based policy recommendations. At a time when Congress is aggressively polarized, the Academy stands as a voice of common ground and understanding. I saw them serve as a symbolic bridge where they somewhat majestically made it easy for Representatives and Senators from both political parties to agree on a common goal. Perhaps I am romanticizing the policy world a bit but I stand firm that their work is amazing. And when it comes to certain issues, Congress does agree a lot more than the media lets on, which brings me to my last point…
Recently, Dalina posted loud and proud for dietitians to stop bickering and fight the big fight! That is, to protect our profession from misinformation spread by social media influencers, health gurus, and other unqualified impersonators. Amen to that. One thing our profession can use to help protect both our profession and consumers is to have a state licensure, that “LD” credential. Licensure in itself could take thousands of words to explain but in short, it is state/territory regulated and ranges from “title protection” (least consumer protection) to “licensure with practice inclusivity” (most consumer protection). Find out what your state or U.S. territory offers here (https://www.eatrightpro.org/advocacy/licensure/licensure-map). If I learned anything the past four months, I have learned to approach an issue from all sides and play devil’s advocate. So in defense of lawmakers who do not support licensure for registered dietitians, there is a concern regarding job security. The more regulated our profession becomes, the fewer individuals there will be eligible to have our credentials and work in our field. But they can go find another job or follow their passion and go to school for nutrition just like us, right?! Maybe, but it was no easy feat mentally, physically, or financially to get here. Let me be very clear, I do not support any Instagram influencer offering nutrition advice beyond the very basics of myPlate but we need to understand where those with opposing views are coming from and show a little compassion while still standing our ground. If that sounds easy to you, then you may be a great fit for the policy world!
If your state/territory affiliate needs assistance with licensure protection, the Academy’s PIA Office can help! While you’re contacting them about licensure, consider interning there as well. Whether you’re a seasoned professional wanting insight on federal legislation or a student/intern with a month or two to fill with new experience, you can be a valuable addition to the office. Likewise, they will give you an experience that will continue to build on itself long after you leave. If anything in the past 700 words interested you at all, I encourage you to introduce yourself to the PIA office at FNCE and look for their special internship session. Ask for Liz Campbell, she is an amazing mentor and is the Senior Director of Legislative and Government Affairs. Questions or comments – I’d love to chat with you! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on LinkedIn!