10 Takeaways from the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo
Monday, October 22, 2012
LifeTime WeightLoss in Cindi Lockhart, Processed Foods, Public Health / Food Industry, nutrition news

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Philadelphia. This is the largest annual gathering for food and nutrition professionals across the globe and includes several hundred exhibitors, with more than 100 presentations, panel discussions and demonstrations. It’s been several years since I last attended the conference so I was curious to find out some of the latest research and products, and connect with my peers. I came away with several positives, some frustrating disappointments, and a few questions about the current state of our profession. Here are the 10 big takeaways for me.

1. Be dietitians, not commercials.

Walking into the convention hall, the Academy proudly hoists a banner with the following sponsors:

At Life Time we believe, as should all properly trained registered dietitians, that whole foods are critical to providing adequate nutrition for optimal health and wellness. Unfortunately the sponsors for our professional conference are organizations deeply involved in highly processed foods, processed wheat and grain products, and sugary or artificially flavored beverages. We all know the influence these items have on obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

One of my favorite speakers at the conference was a 65 year old registered dietitian who has been a successful entrepreneur for the past 40 years.  She pointed out “As nutrition professionals, we should want wholesome, unprocessed foods available yet at our own conference we’re bombarded by processed foods as we enter the marketplace EXPO. And with a $2,500.00 booth reservation fee, many small businesses were squeezed out of the opportunity to share their products and education. I think the Academy should not be so closely aligned with financial sponsors. Their focus should be on whole foods and not on items found in boxes, bottles, or cans.”

2. Find the positive.

At the conference, the Marketplace EXPO was really a microcosm of the often overwhelming amount of products and choices that need to be made by consumers, including ourselves, each day. We should all be making an effort to find and experience the good and the great among all the not-so-great options. 

Some of the good I saw at the EXPO:

Some of the Not-So-Good:

3. Be yourself.

In an interesting Leadership vs. Manager presentation, RDs align strongly with certain demographics and behaviors such as:

Believe me, I know what a challenge it can be to question tradition and think out of the box. It’s not easy. But we all bring unique backgrounds, experiences and approaches to our work. You have a unique voice and it deserves to be heard.

4. Improve.

How can we improve our professional practice? It takes 2 hours a day to maintain performance. It takes more than 2 hours a day to improve job performance. How many hours a day are you really practicing and engaged in what you were trained to do? How many hours do you spend wading through administrative paperwork or trying to solve bureaucratic puzzles? Some of that paperwork work is a necessity, but don’t be hesitant to reach out for help when you need it so you can accomplish what you’re uniquely trained to do.

5. Make a difference.

20% of the population requires 80% of the healthcare costs. As engaged, competent professionals we can, and should, have an impact on statistics like this.

6. Question dogma.

During a Neuroprotective Nutrition presentation, an astute Doctor of Chiropractic was discussing a nutrition philosophy closely aligned to our beliefs at Life Time and said “I know this won’t make me a lot of friends in this room but I do not recommend grains.” At that point an RD behind me, who from the outside looked to be in dreadful overall health stated “You think? You shouldn’t be practicing nutrition!” I didn’t have the courage to engage her in a heated debate at that moment. But the contrast was striking between an energetic, healthy presenter discussing an important nutritional topic and a judgmental, miserable RD dismissing information because it hasn’t been in her formulaic approach for the past 30 years. Don’t be that person!

7. Stay awake.

The moderator for the Neuroprotective Nutrition presentation claimed “What a novel concept for RDs that nutrition can change the brain post-utero.”

Where has she been hiding?

8. Connect the dots.

Nothing we do is in a silo. There are always multiple touch points and outcomes related to our actions. We won’t be able to know all of the outcomes, or even how to directly influence them, but we should all periodically step back and try to see the bigger picture rather than just completing the single task in front of us.

9. Embrace the future.

Nutrigenomics is a field still in its infancy but has interesting implications for our field. There are currently 20 Direct-to-Consumer genetic testing companies testing for risk of common medical conditions or disease. The results are far from conclusive, but the field is rapidly growing.

10. Be skeptical.

I attended a presentation on health implications of fructose. I found out one of the primary speakers currently works for Hershey and was previously employed by Coca Cola. Hmm, I wonder where this presentation is going. Sure enough, after a review of published studies the speaker concluded there was a benefit to consuming fructose on blood pressure and HbA1c levels in diabetics. However, at the end of the review the presenter mentioned that the studies involved in the meta-analysis were small and short term (<12 weeks) and were therefore poor quality since they did not assess the long-term implications of fructose consumption.

Try to make yourself aware of the latest research and some of the bold claims in current headlines. Dig deeper into research topics that interest you. Most importantly, try to keep both an open mind as well as a healthy skepticism to new research and ideas.


As you may have guessed, for me the conference was a mixed bag of experiences. It was at times incredibly frustrating to see my profession and so many of my peers under the influence or pressure of large organizations with deep pockets. At the same time it was invigorating for me to come back to work and know that what I’m doing here at Life Time, and what we’re doing for others through our work is going to have a long-lasting, positive impact on real people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my action items I took away from the conference as well as your own experiences at conferences or meetings you may have attended.

By Cindi Lockhart, RD, LD, Weight Loss Coaching Program Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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