On February 21, a Public Policy Workshop for nutrition advocacy was held at the New Jersey Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS), on the New Brunswick campus. This event was organized by Pinkin Panchal MS, RDN, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and coordinator for the Dietetics – Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway (ISPP) Program. The goal of this event was to enhance student awareness of federal and legislative processes for the development and implementation of nutrition policy. “It is imperative that students become empowered to use their voice to monitor and take action with promoting policies that utilize evidence-based nutrition science to protect the public,” said Panchal.
The Department of Nutritional Sciences at SEBS offers undergraduate, graduate degree programs and is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics to provide the Didactic Program in Dietetics and the ISPP Program to prepare students to meet the requirements to obtain the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN) credential. Collaborative partners in the event included the national and state affiliates of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, representing over 100,000 credentialed practitioners.
Speaker Dan Dytchwald, public policy coordinator for New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (NJAND) emphasized the importance of policy to the students, “If being a registered dietitian is your career, then policy should be your passion,” he said. The morning session of the program included a series of lectures on national and state legislative initiatives. To prepare students to become actively involved in this process, presentations included proposed changes to standards for the National School Lunch Program, re-authorization of the Farm Bill, current issues with Food Labeling and an overview of various public health programs which prioritize nutrition services, such as the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program.
Highlights of the afternoon session included student-led debates on various topics utilizing evidence-based practice to support the vital role of nutrition in health and welfare. The topics up for debate were: Universal Free School Lunch, Dollar Stores and Healthy Food, “Fake” Meat and Dairy, School Lunch Standards Roll Back and Expanded Work Requirements.
John Delos Reyes, a student in the Dietetics-ISPP program in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, commented, “The workshop was very informative and helped me to understand that if we want to make an impact and make a difference, we have to create, and update policies that reflect on strong nutrition evidence-based practices that promote health and prevents diseases.”
To promote grassroots advocacy within Rutgers University and beyond, this workshop was extended to faculty and students from various dietetics education programs in the region. These included Montclair State University, Cedar Crest College, NutraSource supervised practice programs and Rutgers School of Health Professions FEM program for a total of over 100 in-person and virtual participants. “As a dietetics educator within the SEBS Department of Nutritional Sciences, plans are underway to make this workshop an annual event and we look forward to the continued collaboration with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the state affiliate and encouraging students to be an advocate,” said Panchal.