Make Healthy Choices

A Blind Spot for Diversity in Nutrition?

If you want to take a swipe at dietitians, you’d better be ready for some blowback. But the New York Times gave it a go this week with a caricature of the profession. Does the profession pay adequate attention to diversity in nutrition, body types, and lives? Times reporter Priya Krishna tells us no. She describes a profession of “portion control taught with the aid of unappetizing plastic models of green beans and chicken breasts.”

Like any caricature, it belongs in an opinion section. Not in the news.

Diversity Lacking

Without a doubt, this perspective piece takes on a very important issue. Anyone who thinks dietetics doesn’t have a diversity problem isn’t paying attention. It is a profession that is female (94 percent) and White (85 percent). Only three percent of dietitians are Black. Well before Black Lives Matter existed, Sharon Palmer wrote of the need for “changing the face of dietetics” in Today’s Dietitian.

That was in 2004. Not much has changed. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics elected a male president in 2008 and its first Black president in 2015 – Evelyn Crayton. She told the Times:

“I have heard that behind my back they called me an angry Black woman, because I raised questions.”

After she was president and outside of the Academy, Crayton hosted a conference for World Critical Dietetics in Montgomery, AL, to advocate for a more inclusive approach to the profession. She took participants to the civil rights landmark of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. “I could never have done that with the Academy,” she said.

The Risk of Irrelevance

The fact is that almost every health profession suffers from a lack of diversity. Dietetics is not alone in this deficit. But this cannot be an excuse for resistance to change. The profession can effect change in nutrition across the population only if it reflects the diversity of the population. Food is an expression of culture and identity.

Scientist, educator, and registered dietitian Michelle Cardel sums up the importance of this issue:

Increasing the diversity of its members must be a priority for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Our membership should reflect the rich diversity of the United States, and currently, we are not there. To achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field will require purposeful and proactive steps.

Caricatures are easy, but change is hard. The world is changing, becoming even more diverse. Dietetics will either change with it, or slowly become irrelevant.

Click here for the article in the Times and here for further perspective.

Make Healthy Choices, 2009 poster from NCI / Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


 

December 11, 2020

2 Responses to “A Blind Spot for Diversity in Nutrition?”

  1. December 12, 2020 at 3:43 am, Chester Draws said:

    How about we worry about what is true, rather than what is politically correct?

    The priority for dieticians should be fighting BS in dietary science. Not worrying about diversity.

    A “diverse” opinion that is wrong is not better than a non-diverse truth.

    Keep your eye on the ball, not politics. Or your field will become yet another where politics rules and truth is ignored.

  2. December 12, 2020 at 4:13 am, Ted said:

    Chester, you are right. Truth is important. Dogma creeps into nutrition and critical thinking is essential for stopping that. So too, is diversity of all kinds, because human nature leads us to be more comfortable with people who look and think like ourselves. This leads to blind spots where dogma can take over from the truth. Another truth is that people don’t like to confront their own biases. Diverse thinking from people of diverse identities can help with this.