Nutritionists are a crucial component of the supplement community—a 2015 Nutrition Business Journal survey found that nutritionists were the most trusted source of information about supplements for consumers. They're also vital to helping move nutrition to the core of health care, an initiative that Michael Stroka is especially passionate about. He's the executive director of The Nutrition Consortium, which is working to integrate nutrition practice into the health care system. Ahead of his presentation at Natural Products Expo West, Stroka talked with New Hope Network about the consortium's work and what the natural products industry can do to help.
The success of the natural and organic food industry seems to indicate growing consumer awareness of the importance of good nutrition in overall health. And with that, we’ve seen progress in integrating good nutrition as a tool in everyday life—most grocery stores, for example, now employ a nutrition professional. In what other ways are nutrition professionals poised to take on new roles?
Michael Stroka: Although we are seeing more consumer demand for organic and healthy products, we still see an epidemic of chronic disease whose root is poor diet and nutrition. Much more needs to be done to educate consumers and professionals across the health care spectrum on the nexus between nutrition and health. Having said that, however, we are seeing the easing of monopolistic laws in some states which open up opportunities for solo and group practices, and a new Centers for Medicare ruling opens up hospital settings to nutritionists. In addition, we are receiving many requests from MDs who are looking to hire nutritionists or for patient referrals. The role of nutrition science is only going to become more centric to health care, so we foresee tremendous growth for the profession.
I understand you’re part of a group working on an initiative to make nutrition a more critical part of our health care system. How are you going about doing that?
MS: There are four organizations within our Nutrition Consortium: the American College of Nutrition, our science and research group; the American Nutrition Association, our public outreach group; the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, which confers the gold standard Certified Nutrition Specialist credential to advanced degreed nutrition and medical professionals; and the Center for Nutrition Advocacy, an initiative of the BCNS which advocates on behalf of all nutrition professionals for the freedom to practice to the level of their training. We work primarily in three different areas simultaneously. The first is advocacy—ensuring the right to practice and be reimbursed for services. Today there are many states in which it is illegal for a nutrition professional to practice, and there are other states with regulations preventing billing for insurance. The second is training professionals through our ACN conferences and journal and working with universities nationally to incorporate nutrition into health care curricula. The third is education of the public by catalyzing grassroots to create the demand for change in the system.
There is so much information out there about nutrition, and more coming every day. Can you suggest any tips for our retailer and product development readers on how to know whether they’re reading good information?
MS: First take a look at who is sponsoring the information. The best information comes from unbiased sources. Also look at the credentials of the author—do they have accredited degrees and NCCA-accredited credentials—for science-based knowledge and any conflicts of interest. I would recommend our Journal of the American College of Nutrition as an unbiased source as well.
What can we, as the natural food and supplements industries, do to continue to promote the importance of good nutrition?
MS: We would love to have additional support for the work we are doing to establish this science-based nutrition profession. We need to radically scale up the number of nutritionists and health care professionals who use nutrition as a tool. This is a massive undertaking and goes to the heart of our movement to move nutrition science from the periphery to the very core of the health care system. In the case of supplements, New Hope's own consumer survey determined that nutritionists are the most trusted profession to provide supplement advice. You can see the value of growing the number of nutritionists with this statistic alone. Really, it all comes down to awareness through unbiased education. I keep emphasizing this because there is so much misinformation out there and together we can tackle that so consumers can distinguish the science based nutrition from the bunk. And finally, natural food companies can continue to raise the bar on the nutritional quality of their products.
Catch Michael Stroka at Natural Products Expo West.
What: Nutritionists: Your New Ally in Driving Consumer Choice
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday, March 11, 2017
Where: Marriott, Grand Salon F