Communicating Sound Science

Communicating Sound Science

April 12, 2017

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

From celebrity diet plans to supplements promoted by self-proclaimed experts, retail dietitians are spending more and more time trying to clarify food and nutrition myths for consumers. As professional ethics dictate, dietitians must keep their messaging evidence-based, however if consumer communication strategies are not done correctly we risk polarizing our shopper base. How do dietitians stay true to the science while keeping an open mind about the topics and trends many of their customers may value?

It’s not difficult to understand why shoppers may feel a sense of frustration when it comes to science-based information. Science changes and evolves, often leading to confusion and mistrust. Also, science isn’t always presented in a flashy and shiny package by a celebrity through mass media. But believing pseudoscience can distract consumers from the facts, result in money spent on unnecessary products, erode critical thinking and cause public health concerns.

Dietitians need to debunk the nutrition junk but it’s not enough to be proficient with science literacy and nutrition regulations. Dietitians must also be able to communicate the science in creative ways to engage consumers and gain trust. Experts suggest using storytelling when communicating to nonexpert audiences as stories provide engagement and offer increased interest and understanding.  In his 2104 article, “Using Narratives and Storytelling to Communicate Science with Nonexpert Audiences”, Michael Dahlstrom states that nonexperts get most of their science information from mass media content, which is itself already biased toward narrative formats. Narratives are also inherently influential, which provides science communicators tactics for persuading resistant audiences and getting the facts across in a relatable way. 

Ellie Krieger, cookbook author and host of her public television show, Ellie’s Real Good Food has found herself in the position of clarifying many food or nutrition topics and provides these additional recommendations:

  • Try to understand what people are thinking. What is the public reading about and learning from media now?
  • Lead with ideas and not your credentials. For example, a cookbook should focus on providing the end-user with successful solutions and not be focused on the chef.
  • Express the science in revolutionary ways. Use graphics, solutions or partnerships to tell the story.
  • Be real. Consider using videos to show your true self while communicating the facts.
  • Respond quickly to fake news and call out cases where people are being taken advantage of.

Properly communicating science-based food and nutrition issues can be complex. Dietitians should use their nutrition and science background to understand consumer needs and provide honest, solution-based stories that build trust.