Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Spring 2022

To Diet or Not to Diet: Communicating Nutrition Information to a Lay Audience

Kathryn Knoff, PhD, CHES‚úČ; Student SIG Chair


In the Health Education sector of behavioral medicine and public health, we are frequently asked a myriad of health questions, both in and outside of our niche. Most of the population is aware that nutrition and a healthy diet are a part of a healthy lifestyle and that we should aim for this. However, many are overwhelmed by the amount of information on nutrition that is available to them, as the internet is the main source of nutrition information.1 At the same time, researchers also know how it feels to have a wealth of information at their fingertips. However, with an abundance of fad diets that reach the top levels of viewership, having access to inaccurate information ends up being detrimental to society and health. It is imperative to provide accurate and beneficial information about nutrition to the public.

It is easy to become frustrated for researchers and practitioners when communicating to a lay audience that may have previously sought out information to try a fad diet. Many of these fad diets claim to, for example, (1) cure or definitively prevent cancer, (2) promote high intake of fatty foods, or (3) over-restrict food and label foods as “good” or “bad”.2 This along with many other claims can seem like an appealing route to take, especially when coupled with celebrities promoting juice cleanses, expensive supplements, and meal replacements. However, studies have demonstrated that (1) certain foods MAY help prevent some cancers, (2), fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, or (3) overeating can lead to obesity and associated health problems.2 While fad diets are often promoted as a cure-all, we know this is not the case. Many fad diets are not sustainable long-term through severe calorie restriction, rigid rules, or elimination of essential food groups, all of which can lead to binge eating.3

There are many approaches that can be taken to discuss nutrition information with friends, family members, or colleagues. First, I would always recommend seeking a local Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) for a specific diet. RDNs can assist individuals in finding a perfect and tailored plan that is sustainable and still includes favorite foods. This is key to developing a healthy dietary lifestyle. So, whether your diabetic family member is looking to improve their lifestyle or if your nephew wants to fuel for their sport more efficiently, an RDN can help. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website has a search function for finding local RDNs in all settings (i.e., schools, hospitals, etc.; https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/learn-more-about-rdns/find-an-rdn-anywhere-you-need-one). If someone is just looking to learn more about nutrition, start with the USDA’s MyPlate regimen (https://www.myplate.gov/), which focuses on a complete balanced lifestyle and provides the tools to help make healthier decisions.
 

Here are a few basic dos and don’ts of communicating nutrition information to take away:

Do:

  • Suggest valid sources, such as the USDA MyPlate website
  • Suggest a visit to an RDN for specific dietary plans
  • Suggest lifestyle changes instead of temporary diets
  • Start with small changes, such as adding 1 serving of fruit to breakfast and lunch
  • Remember that indulging in favorite comfort foods is ok in moderation
  • Remember that many budget-friendly foods are great (such as frozen or canned produce over fresh produce).
     

Don’t:

  • Promote a “one size fits all” dietary approach4
  • Promote fast weight loss (i.e., greater than 1-2 lbs/week)5
  • Promote fad diets
  • Promote expensive “diet foods”
  • Promote over-restriction or cutting out entire foods or food groups unless there is good reason (e.g., allergies)
  • Vilify any specific food or food group, or budget-friendly options

 

Additional Resources

https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf#page=31

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet

https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/index.html

https://www.myplate.gov/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20048466

https://www.nutrition.gov/topics/basic-nutrition/healthy-eating  

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating

https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/learn-more-about-rdns/find-an-rdn-anywhere-you-need-one

https://www.eatright.org/food#resources

 

References

  1. Adamski, M., Truby, H., M. Klassen, K., Cowan, S., & Gibson, S. (2020). Using the Internet: Nutrition Information-Seeking Behaviours of Lay People Enrolled in a Massive Online Nutrition Course. Nutrients, 12(3), 750. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12030750
  2. Hall, H. (2014). Food myths: What science knows (and does not know) about diet and nutrition. Skeptic (Altadena, CA), 19(4), 10–20.
  3. Mayo Clinic Health System Staff. (2019, May 22). Don’t fall for a fad diet. Retrieved on February 10th, 2022 from https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/dont-fall-for-a-fad-diet
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2020, June 6). Weight loss: Choosing a diet that’s right for you. Retrieved February 10th, 2022 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20048466
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 17). Losing Weight. Retrieved on February 10th, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html