Hello, I’m Sally. I’ve been asked to tell you a bit about my time working in nutrition and public health. First, I’m a Registered Dietitian and current Chair of the British Dietetic Association Public Health Nutrition Specialist Group. I also have lots of experiences (and stories) from working in the Food Industry, particularly as Company Nutritionist at a large UK supermarket. I also really enjoy supporting students and presently I work at the University of Leeds where I’m lucky to have an interesting role lecturing and engaging with industry within the School of Food Science and Nutrition.
I have two sons, a very supportive partner, and appear to like multitasking, too.
I was not even aware of the role of a dietitian when I was 18. I simply became interested in nutrition through biochemistry when I was working as a research assistant at Edinburgh University after graduating from there with a BSc in Genetics. After a few hospital shadowing sessions, it seemed like the path to become a dietitian, was for me to first do a MMedSci in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield. This course really opened my eyes to nutrition science. From there, I did the PG Dip course in Dietetics at Leeds Beckett University and found myself training in hospital settings whilst also becoming involved with product reformulation and development projects for food companies, even as a student. Following this, I ended up in a new role (at that time) building and leading the nutrition team for a major UK supermarket. That’s when I really learnt about public health, EU nutrition and health claims legislation and how Government nutrition policies play out in real-life; for industry and consumers.
I suppose working with consumers and food labels meant I realised things needed improving. So, I started lecturing whilst completing a PhD in the fields of nutrition labelling, UK Legislation and consumer engagement. Fast forward a few years and I’m now a big fan of helping consumers and patients use labels through better understanding and meaningful education from Health Care Professionals (HCPs). Contributing to an evidence-base and optimising nutrition practice in this area is why I’m impressed with Nutritank’s progressive resources, blogs and influencing. To date, one of my favourite experiences in this area was running education classes with a Third Sector Organisation in Leeds and capturing some very honest views from the service-users about nutrition labels.
As an aside, these are the most frequent questions I am asked !
- What is the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitians?
- Can this product make that claim?
- Do your kids eat sweets?
Right now it’s a really promising time to work in public health. The government acting to try to prevent and reduce obesity in response to COVID-191, and there’s a lot of attention on calories on restaurant menus, traffic light labels and “junk” food advertising. A great critique of these initiatives and their impact on health has been recently provided on this Nutritank blog by a Registered Dietitian. Sure, nutrition labels need to be displayed on products by their manufacturers, particularly since their impact may stretch beyond helping consumer making decisions and drive product reformulation . However, it is very clear that consumers will not always use labels, even to make “healthier” food choices. This is likely to be particularly true if they’ve not been advised to (such as by a Dr or Dietitian), or if the labels require just too much effort for consumers to continually “use” them effectively. I’m also aware that the retail environment and those claims that appear on products are much too influential for nutrition labels alone to stand a chance of steering consumers towards better diets. However, presentation of calorie or nutrition information online, such as within food delivery platforms, demonstrate that policy makers still value this “information intervention” approach to enable consumers shape their diets. In reality, effective labelling strategies are going to be those which are properly “joined-up” with HCP approaches which aim to better enable and educate patients and consumers. The support of dietitians, both “behind the scenes” and during client consultations, is therefore really important in making these initiatives work for consumers. As such, my work with the British Dietetic Association is very satisfying in this respect and tries to bring together many stakeholders to help food improve!
If you want to know more about what the BDA and Dietitians do, please follow the Public Health Specialist Group3 on Instagram (bdapublichealthsg), Twitter (@BDAPublicHealth) Linkedin.