Community nutrition is a pathway for professionals seeking to improve the nutritional status and health of society from different angles.
As described in Community Nutrition in Action, practitioners assist in the development of people (individual diets), policy, and programs. Community nutritionists impact people through the application of science-based, dietetic advice (a form of primary prevention) that is often provided to individuals at fitness centers, worksites and day care centers. They collaborate with policymakers to produce policy documents, laws, and regulation that address the issues that affect citizens at the local (e.g. public policies that affect gleaning activities and community garden sites), state, national (e.g. the Health People publication and the SNAP program) and international (e.g. the World Health Organization’s policies related to sustainable development that relate to the health of people) levels. And they have the initiative to propel programs that may focus on certain population demographics or food related issues of concern to society, such as cardiovascular disease.
People in the field of community nutrition perform a function that is strikingly similar to a process employed by land managers. A rancher, for example, may always have an eye at soil level observing the impact of her/his cattle’s hooves and the time it takes for their forage to rejuvenate when subjected to different seasons or grazing strategies.
What may strike some as a romantic fondness for life, or a futile curiosity, may actually be used to develop a productive system of management. To my mind, there’s a sense that true progress follows adaptations that are made after observing the patterns of nature.
And so it is with the nutritionist who edits their practices after analyzing the scientific literature or the results of surveys they’ve conducted.
Whether making a determination on how a patient’s newly adopted lifestyle produces the desired result (or not), or measuring participation in a new policy that has created farmers market currency for WIC clients, the process of evaluation is integral to the improvement of health among the population being studied. In three areas noted above (people, policy, and programs), the challenging work of designing methods for assessing successes and pitfalls allows nutritionists to keep their communities moving forward.
In this manner, mistakes can be identified and transmitted to colleagues so that the complex web of interactions each community nutritionist must interpret – heredity, the food environment, societal inequity, etc. – becomes ever clearer. This is a good thing. Because the role of nutritionists is to perform miracles through the marketing of healthy lifestyles in the public and/or private sectors. To put it simply, they are responsible for communicating a better way.