So What if March is National Nutrition Month

March 1 marks the beginning of National Nutrition Month – an annual campaign that is sponsored by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The goals are simple – raise awareness of informed food choices, good eating habits, and exercise. Another stated goal is to “promote the ADA and its members to the public and the media as the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically based food and nutrition information.”

Noble goals indeed, and very timely.

But is “Nutrition Month” effective at all?

A few observations from endless conversation with dietitians, consumers, and food brands:

1. “Scientifically based” is problematic for many people, who refuse to be pacified by soothing assurances, even if they come from the ADA and the government (FDA).

Example: Artificial food colorings. Red #40 has been shown to mess with kids’ neural activity. It is being phased out in Europe. And yet here, studies (many paid for by the food industry)  say it’s perfectly safe. The fact that junk food companies are sponsoring the ADA does not help either.

Another example: margarine was touted as the “cure” for saturated fat of butter, but it turned out to be even worse due to trans-fat. What foods are being recommended as healthy today that we’ll be shaking our heads at 20 years from now?

Yet another example: High fructose corn syrup. Science has been saying it is no different than sugar for 30 years. And yet many people shun it as if it were the devil. Whether or not HFCS is bad or not, its presence in a food is a sure indicator that is overly processed, has inferior ingredients and is poor in nutritional value.

Get where we’re going with this?

2. A drop in a bucket. While Nutrition Month is a nice idea, over at Micky D’s and Coke, every month is junk food month. Actually every hour of every day. Hands down, on every media you can think of, people are more apt to meet a promotion for a burger or liquid candy (aka Soda) than they are for anything healthy. Money buys mindshare, and the “good guys” fighting  the nutrition war are severely underfunded.

3. Dietitians are an unaffordable luxury. We’ve spoken with many people who could use dietetic help. For the most part, they seem content in finding information online instead of visiting a real-life dietitian. But the same people don’t hesitate to go to their family physician the minute someone is feeling ill.

So why doesn’t every household have a family dietitian?

We think dietitians are a crucial part of fixing America’s health problems. It’s just that Doctors get all the respect, money and attention, not dietitians. And because doctors visits are so expensive, we pay medical insurance that lets each individual doctor’s visit be relatively cheap. Nobody will think twice about a co-pay of $10 or $20. But a session with a dietitian will cost you $100. Who can afford that?

Will insurance companies wake up and start to subsidize dietitian visits? We certainly hope so. Because ultimately, obesity and food disease prevention is much cheaper than “cure-ation“.

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  • melissa

    actually many insurance companies are covering up to 6 dietitian visits a year. that’s certainly not enough, and it’s not all insurances, but it’s definitely a start! completely agree that all insurance companies should cover it in full…

  • Annette

    We called a dietician for my son, he has severe eczema and bowel issues. I was told insurance would only cover him if he was diabetic. I thought that was insane! We’ve worked it out through trial and error and found he’s sensitive to gluten and dairy. We also limit sugar and absolutely no food coloring or preservitives, it would have been nice to have a little guidance along the way.

  • Louisegoldberg

    Several insurance companies are now covering things like food allergies, gestational diabetics, nutritional deficiencies, etc-at least according to the pay summary I was recently sent by the Amer. Health Specialty network. You have to become a provider though. Does it cover everything? No. It is my understanding that ‘Wellness’ visits without a diagnosis are not covered (correct me if I’m wrong someone because I would love to be wrong on that). In re: to NNM and promoting dietitians: once I left the hospital setting and started working with clients in the ‘outside world’, I started realizing that I was competing against bloggers, trainers, and passionate nutrition people who promote nutrition information, use their anecdotal knowledge of nutrition (“well this worked for my daughter so it will work for yours…”), and have LOTS of followers because of their dramatic theories-some of which may be correct but as licensed professionals we don’t have the liberty to make generalizations-we *have* to use science to back up what we recommend. The difference between licensed health professionals and other people who just write about nutrition is that we are accountable and risk losing our license if someone is injured on account of the information we give out. While you may not think that is a big deal when it comes to wellness info, it IS a big deal when it comes to food allergies, celiac disease, people receiving tube feedings, and many other more serious medical issues. On a side note about your comments on what we used to recommend and what we NOW recommend…it’s always been that way. The science of nutrition is everchanging…our food is everchanging. It IS frustrating for consumers and very frustrating for those of us who put our professional reputations on the line every day based on current science. Isn’t that how it is in all areas of our lives…used to not wear seatbelts or have car seats, used to be that smoking was considered fine… I am happy to celebrate NNM. Wish it were NNY!

    • Fooducate

      It should be NND (decade…)

    • Fooducate

      It should be NND (decade…)

  • Meghan Preuss

    I would love to forward an email that I received from a major processed food producer in response to order a product. It is an amazing eye opener as to the amount of denial and lack of education that we are faced with. Is there a fooducate email address that I can send it to?

  • Millie Barnes

    Dieticians tend to teach what they are taught; the 4 food groups. I have a client who went to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fl and was told (for $185.00) to read a page from a nutrition book on her condition. Ultimatly she was refered to a psychologist for her Spastic Colitis (which happpens far more to women than to men) and was sent home. She had not left her home for several years except when necessary and was debilitated by this condition. Two weeks on a daity free diet and she is in great shape years later.

    The recomendations from the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association are wrong! Humans are not meant to eat a grain based Diet; high carbs, low fat, eschewing read meat, heated vegetable oils…look where these practices have gotten us!

    Read this article;

    Go to Weston Price website. Read what perfect human nutrition is…it’s not what your government tells you it is! The FDA is bought and paid for by agra-food-business…

    • Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

      Do not agree with the 4 food groups comment…not sure what Registered Dietitians you have met. That is insulting to all Dietitians.

    • kalymc

      Where did you study nutrition?

    • Joshh, RD

      I agree with Nancy…I’m sorry for your bad experience with the RD that you saw. Being a RD myself, that is kind of embarrassing. I can agree with you though food businesses, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies having a big impact on government associations and industries. It’s true.

      But I can respectfully disagree with your comment on eating a grain based diet. I believe there should be balance with lots of fruits, vegetables, some grains, and lean proteins. But there are many countries and people outside of America that eat a high grain based diet (rice, etc) and are very health and thin…. it just tends to be that grains in America are highly processed and stripped of their protein and nutrients.

      You can’t believe ever article you read Millie, better have the research to back it up when it comes to you pointing fingers to how wrong everyone is…

  • Mike Lieberman

    It’s just a big PR event. The organizations that sponsor and provide the information for this are the same ones selling you the “food.”

    Thanks for bringing this to light and continuing to educate people.

  • Foodie, Formerly Fat

    While I have much respect for the field of nutrition science and the good people who must be dietitians and nutritionists I personally have had some not so great experiences with them in my life. Of the five I’ve been to in my life only one of them seemed to understand that there are emotional reasons why people eat and that giving people information about the food pyramid was not going to be enough to actually change their behavior. The one that did understand that talked about it a lot but then seemed to use that knowledge to her advantage to manipulate me into buying a whole bunch of ridiculous products that she was getting a kick-back on that helped me not at all.

    The best nutrition advice I’ve ever seen came from the kids playroom at a Wegman’s grocery store. They have coloring pages for the kids that are shaped like a plate. There is a line down the middle dividing the plate in half and then words saying that half the plate needs to be fresh fruits and vegetables.

    I’m taking a harder line here than I necessarily think I should because too many people seem to be confused by the layers of complexity that have gone into discussing nutrition and it doesn’t need to be so confusing. Just remember, whole foods are best and Michael Pollan got it right: Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much. Reading his book “Food Rules” is also a pretty great way to figure out how to make choosing good healthful food easy.

    • On Nutrition

      It was a dietitian who created that coloring page at Wegmans. I’m a dietitian in Rochester, NY (Wegman’s birthplace and corporate HQ). Wegmans hires many RDs to create their nutrition info and consumer handouts.

      There are many professionals out there in all sorts of professions. You have to find one who works well for you. Just because you hit on a few whose message you don’t like doesn’t mean the message is wrong. It just wasn’t delivered in a way that you could relate to. I usually spend time talking with my clients on the phone before scheduling so we can both determine if I can best meet their needs. If not, I refer them to a colleague.

      My little side note to all is that we choose what we spend money on. Many of us (women in particular) spend a small fortune on our hair every 6-8 weeks or our nails and (for you men) our cars. Why would we give any less to our health? One of my clients stated that the money that he spent to see a dietitian was some of the best money that he’d spent.

  • elisabeth

    It seems to me that many people don’t want to “hear” what dietitians are really saying. They are not likely to say there is a magical list of foods to eat or not eat, that will solve every problem and bring on perfect health. And they are not likely to be able to change the habits of a lifetime in a visit or two.
    If one is lucky enough to work for a large organization that has a “wellness” component to their health insurance there are often ways to get dietary advice through the wellness “coaches” or referrals to a dietician. But unlike much of what one reads on the internet, I suspect most professional and trustworthy dietitians will not be able to provide instant answers that work immediately.

  • muse

    #2: of course every day is junk food day in junk food month. They don’t even have to make it a national “its ok to eat grossly fattening unhealthy food” day. All they have to say is “mm mm yummy – now with 20% less saturated fat” and people try it and are convinced they are eating something healthy. ALl it takes is one over-cooked brussel sprout to ruin it for everyone for ever. You can say “mm mm yummy, now with 20 % more —” about brussel sprouts and not your single average joe/jane will come banging at your drive thru window come 12:05
    Because they remember that one time. ANd it was yuck. ANd that was enough to make it last forever.
    So do I think the nutrition month is a good idea? If it helps a school lunch program get a few extra bucks, or prompts those fast food joints to even temporarily add something less-bad to their menu for the month to make them feel like ‘ya, we’s health food joint’. Then hayck yeah. baby steps are better than backward steps.

  • Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

    Made a “movie” on the difference between the importance of Dietitians vs “others” :-)

    • Anna

      THANK YOU! This is a perfect summary of what we go through and the conversations we have over and over with the world.

    • kalymc

      Wonderful video! As a dietetic intern, I especially appreciate the section on the training required to become an RD. No one seems to understand!

  • Andy at Buyitright

    Thanks again for great commentary. We feel that unless people vote with their wallets that HFC and junk food will rule the day. Thanks for making it easier for us to buy things that are supportive of healthy, balanced living.

  • Judy griffin

    In addition to Dieticians families can use Certified Health Coaches to help families and individuals navigate their way to a healthier lifestyle. Insurance companies could cut their medical costs if they reimbursed people for this essential service.

    • Joshh, RD

      I disagree to some point. “Certified Health Coaches” have no formal degree, just a certification that says you’re a health coach. No degree or licensing is required, therefore no insurance reimbursement will ever come about for this. A good Medical Doctor, Registered Dietitian, or Registered Nurse should be the true health coaches…. because they have the medical background. It doesn’t take that much effort to “coach” somebody on the right thing to do.

  • Weightlossdiet411

    Nutrition is vital in the fight agains obesity. Colorful foods is a start – it’s not enough, but it is a good start. We need to realize that our health is our greatest asset – we need to take care of our bodies.

  • Rhonda

    One size ‘scientifically based’ nutrition advice does not fit everyone- as anyone with food issues or allergies knows very well.
    Pretty colored food is a start, but sadly, many people don’t know WHAT to do with fresh food once they have it!