- July 29, 2018
- Julie Mortensen
- Most Recent, Perspectives
On June 7th, 2018, only three-days after starting my summer internship with Sight and Life, I found myself on a long-haul flight traveling to Boston, Massachusetts, from Switzerland. I was invited to join the Sight and Life team at the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) Nutrition 2018 conference – what an incredible opportunity! I could not have been more excited for this perfect introduction into the world of nutrition, particularly since I am interested in applying my current academic background in economics and law to the field of nutrition.
Initiation as an Intern
On the first day, I participated in a team workshop where I met the global team of Sight and Life – such an interesting mix of people! As a complete newbie, I quickly observed that the team is held together by their passion for nutrition, as their backgrounds are quite diverse. Besides nutritionists and scientists, I was stunned to discover there is an assortment of business, communications, marketing, and architecture degrees amongst the group. Additionally, I gained insight on how Sight and Life operates. The team of twelve is spread across four different continents – India, Egypt, Switzerland, South Africa, and USA – completing the majority of their work remotely and therefore making team retreats of great importance.
The workshop focused on ‘design thinking’ and was a great opportunity for everyone to learn a new method of problem solving. Additionally, having a team with a wide variety of knowledge and experiences presented interesting and rich discussions the during group exercises. The most valuable take aways, for me, were learning the importance of a broad stakeholder analysis, defining a high potential but underdeveloped stakeholder, and how you can engage with an assortment of stakeholders within a complex interdependent system. This mirrors the importance of a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approach to solving the complicated malnutrition puzzle. The day culminated at Fenway Park cheering on the Boston Red Sox’s as they played the Chicago White Sox for a Sight and Life team outing.
A Peek into Nutrition
For the next three days, I participated in ASN’s Nutrition 2018 at the Hynes Convention Center. As I have never been to a conference, let alone one focused on nutrition, and I was eager to see how it all worked. With over 3,500 participants registered, it was shaping up to be the largest ASN conference so far. When I walked through the main entrance for the first time, I thought something probably quite typical of a European in America, “Oh my god, this is so big!” Sight and Life showcased a booth in the gigantic exhibitors hall, but there was also several floors of meeting rooms where I would spend the coming days in listening to interesting presentations.
Eager to learn, I attended as many sessions as I could possibly fit into my schedule covering a wide variety of nutritional topics. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the list of speakers for each session, naively I thought they would all sit in front and have a panel discussion. However, they were mostly individual presentations sharing the results from their recent research. I learned about behavior change communication, nutrition education, heard about different nutrition strategies and their implementation, and community health interventions that were completed in India and one in a refugee camp in Beirut.
For me, the most interesting session was “Demographics, Diversity and Disparities in Nutrition Science”. A few speakers presented research that was focused on a specific region in Hawaii, USA, and an ethnic group of American indigenous people while others presented nutrition issues and development on the global level. The most shocking session I attended was, without doubt, about the nutrition situation of Native Americans by Dr. Donald Warne, a member of the Oglala Dakota tribe from South Dakota, USA. He provided extensive evidence that one does not have to travel far to find health issues as they exist in native communities in the United States of America. He argued that it is almost perverse that in America you are automatically eligible for dialysis in the case of kidney failure; yet, a child is not automatically eligible for healthy food. An anecdote that resonated with me was a story Warne shared of three sisters illustrating the importance of targeting health problems at their roots.
As three sisters walk along a river, they see there are children in the river who cannot swim and are about to drown. One of the sisters says, “Something needs to be done.” She jumps into the river and tries to save the children. The second sister disagrees with the first one saying, “We just need to teach them how to swim!” The third sister has not said or done anything, and the other two are furious with her. “Why aren’t you helping us?” they exclaim, “These children need to be saved!” The third one turns away and starts to walk up the river saying, “I will find and stop the person who is throwing these children into the water.”
Experiencing the Conference
During the three days, my time spent at the Sight and Life booth was both busy and truly engaging. I found it most interesting to talk to students, researchers, journalists, and scientists from all over the world and explain what Sight and Life stands for. It was intriguing to visit the other exhibitors at the conference presenting a variety of nutrition topics from non-profit organizations fighting malnutrition to private corporations offering vitamin supplements. One booth representing a company called Allulite Rare offered samples of chocolate and gummys made with a new kind of sweetener that tastes just like sugar, but without all the disadvantages such as calories, glycemic effect or digestive upset. At the InBody exhibit, I had a body measurement analysis done free. This machine provides individual results for weight and body fat percentage as well as the distribution of lean muscle mass in less than a minute.
A highlight for Sight and Life was the Elevator Pitch Contest, where selected students and young researchers presented their innovative ideas on nutrition assessment to a panel of experts. It was fascinating to hear about these cutting edge concepts and that many people my age share the passion for nutrition. Many of the presentations introduced fascinating new mobile applications for measuring food intake. One of my favorite pitches was from Andrea Spray of INATU, standing for ICT’s for Nutrition Agriculture and Time Use. By attaching a tiny camera to women’s clothing, the device provided in-depth research for nutrition assessment as the device automatically takes a picture every minute. Her project in Africa proved that the gadget was generally well received in communities and proved to be a good option for measuring nutrition behavior remotely without much paperwork – this was an interesting idea. It is impressive to see the tremendous progress that can be made in a relatively short time when one is focused on a goal and teams up with the right people.
After spending a sunny day sightseeing in Boston, I once again found myself onboard a flight back to Zurich. It was an incredible experience. I learned so much about nutrition, the broadness of the worldwide nutrition issues currently at hand and the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table. I would like to thank the Sight and Life team and my boss, Klaus Kraemer, for making this possible and for welcoming me into the Sight and Life family.
Take a look through the picture gallery from ASN: