Male Western Tanager

Sweet Tweets about Nutrition and Health (or Not)

How much scientific rigor can you pack into a seminar about nutrition tweets? At the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Boston yesterday, Cheryl Toner and Heather Mangieri proved you can pack quite a bit. All in the context of nutrition in popular culture.

The video on the right – gently poking fun at “scientific” tips on the paleo diet – was just one of the tools that Toner and Mangieri used. They brought the tension between popular culture and nutrition into sharp focus.

Like it or not, the public absorbs quite a bit of nutrition science (or pseudoscience) in doses of 144 characters. Toner, in particular, presented a compelling need for nutrition professionals to engage the public in social media and to do it with scientific integrity. “Engagement without enragement” was her plea.

She presented a framework for evaluating the scientific rigor of new studies and the quality of evidence for subjects that attract controversy. None of this is new, but her concise delivery to an eager audience of dietitians was especially valuable.

Some of the researchers who are busy espousing their opinions as facts would do well to heed Toner’s central thesis. Screeds about “toxic sugar” come to mind.

“We must,” she said, “respect differing opinions. But we must help the public distinguish opinions from facts.”

Words to live by.

Click here for Toner’s presentation and here for Mangieri’s.

Male Western Tanager, photograph © Jacob McGinnis / flickr

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October 18, 2016