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Q-and-A: Marion Nestle on future trends in the food and nutrition industries

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Marion Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of three prize-winning books: “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health,” “Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety” and “What to Eat.” Her next book, “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” co-authored by Malden Nesheim, will be released in March.

SmartBrief for Nutritionists lead editor Kathryn Doherty interviewed Nestle about her predictions for food and nutrition going into the new year.

What do you expect to be some of the top news and trends in 2012 regarding food and nutrition?

Judging from the effects of Occupy Wall Street, and its spinoff Occupy Against Big Food, income inequity and its effects will continue to be big news. As food prices rise, food insecurity becomes an increasingly greater threat to human welfare, domestically as well as internationally.

At the same time, obesity is not going away. But I think the focus on what to do about obesity is shifting markedly from personal responsibility to societal responsibility. People increasingly recognize the power of the food environment — large portions are the most obvious example — to determine food choice, eating behavior, calorie intake and body weight.

How do you expect the role of nutritionists and dietitians to change in coming years?

Dietetic practitioners largely focus on educating individuals about dietary choice. That might have worked when food was not marketed everywhere 24/7, but it’s no longer enough. Nutritionists must not only shift their focus to figuring out how to help clients cope with the food environment but also work to change the food environment to make it easier for people to eat better.

This requires a fundamental shift in dietetic training and practice from a focus on individual education to a more public health approach. In turn, this means helping students understand how food marketing affects personal choice and getting more involved in food politics.

I see food companies as part of the problem of obesity and food choice, not because they are evil but because they are forced to focus on profit and to increase their growth in profit every 90 days. As long as nutritionists enter into partnerships and alliances with food companies, their ability to think and speak critically about these issues is compromised.

What can motivated individuals do to get involved in food politics locally and help influence the food environment in their community? 

The easiest entry point is to join groups working on issues of greatest interest. These can easily be found by searching for the issue and the location. Go to schools and see whether the meals need to be better. Get the city council to develop bike paths and safe routes for children to walk to school. Write congressional representatives about issues of concern. There is plenty of work to be done!

What’s your personal mantra on weight and eating?

Nothing could be easier: “Eat less. Move more. Eat better. Get political.” This advice is easy to follow and leaves lots of room for eating what I like. It’s OK to eat junk food — just not too much and not too often. If people have trouble following this advice — and I can understand the reason many do — it’s because the food environment is set up to undermine it at every opportunity. That’s the reason the “get political” part is key.

Image courtesy of Marion Nestle

This question-and-answer session was produced as part of SmartBrief’s 2011 Best Of reports, which capture the year’s most important stories in each industry. Sign up for SmartBrief for Nutritionists to get tomorrow’s report on the top must-read stories for health and wellness professionals.