American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Ed Saltzman

Interview with Dr. Ed Saltzman

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with Medical Nutrition Council Chair Edward Saltzman, MD

The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) is pleased to introduce the new chair of the Medical Nutrition Council (MNC), Dr. Edward Saltzman. Dr. Saltzman is the chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy as well as the chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition at Tufts Medical Center.  He is also a researcher in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.  He spoke with us about his experience with ASN, his plans for the MNC, and how he made the journey from being a member on the "periphery" of the organization to heading one of its most prominent councils.

Interviewer: How did you first become involved in nutrition, and what made you decide to pursue a career in the field?

Dr. Saltzman: I first became interested in nutrition when I was a medical school resident.  I was applying for specialty training in endocrinology; as I interviewed for fellowship slots, people kept telling me, “You aren't interested in endocrinology; you're interested in nutrition.”  To my amazement, I was able to find training programs that specialize in nutrition.  So I came to nutrition by being interested in metabolism and nutrients as they pertain to medical conditions such as diabetes.

Nutrition spans so many different disciplines.  It's the perfect combination of medicine, psychology, metabolism, and other scientific pursuits.  I often think of myself as a psychiatrist in an internist's body, and nutrition really bridges that gap.  My research has very little to do with psychology or psychiatry, but it has a lot to do with behavior.  Nutrition also has such a wide-reaching impact on health and illness.  Many of my colleagues may be interested in promoting health, but I find myself fascinated by how patients can overcome illness, with nutrition providing one of the most important avenues to achieving that goal.

Interviewer: Where did you first hear about ASN? What factors motivated you to join?

Dr. Saltzman: I heard about ASN very early on in my nutrition fellowships, because ASN was—and is—“the” organization to join for researchers and medical professionals interested in nutrition.  ASN also offers a track for graduate students and young professionals that really appealed to me.  Additionally, it's widely known that ASN offers the highest-quality research in its journals and at its meetings, particularly the Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology.

Interviewer: Which aspects of ASN membership have been most helpful to your career development?

Dr. Saltzman: As I mentioned, ASN has by far the best journals in the field with the highest-quality research.  It's interesting though, for some years, I did not participate much beyond reading The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and The Journal of Nutrition and attending the annual meetings.  I was sort of on the periphery of the organization, and I really did not avail myself of many of the opportunities ASN offers, which in retrospect I certainly should have.  As I have become more involved over the past 5-7 years, I realized that I was missing the chance to network and also the camaraderie of meeting colleagues in my field.

Interviewer: What made you decide to get more involved?

Dr. Saltzman: I realized that the society has so much more to offer than the elements I was currently taking advantage of, and there was absolutely no reason that I shouldn't do that.  I think many of us feel that we are overcommitted, and are concerned about what we will get out of some of these volunteer activities that we put our time into.  In the case of ASN, I have discovered that the time and effort put into organization activities are vastly outweighed by the benefits I receive.

Interviewer: As the new chair of the Medical Nutrition Council (MNC), what upcoming council activities are you most looking forward to?

Dr. Saltzman: From a personal perspective, I really look forward to listening and learning from my colleagues, because the MNC attracts so many interesting and highly-qualified people.  One of the specific activities I look forward to is the progress we are making in promoting clinical nutrition as a discipline within ASN and in promoting the science of clinical nutrition. I also look forward to our continued efforts to promote nutrition education.  For example, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health has convened a working group to explore future directions for enhancing nutrition education across the continuum of medical education and training. This working group includes leaders from ASN's Medical Nutrition Council as well as representatives from the Association of American Medical Colleges and Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education.  We are meeting this September in Bethesda and will keep ASN members updated.  ASN has the opportunity to offer so much of our expertise and make some real headway in this area.

Interviewer: What are some of your major goals during your tenure as MNC chair?

Dr. Saltzman: I really hope to continue the MNC's presence in ASN, particularly at the annual meeting, where the council has a tradition of sponsoring very high-quality symposia.  I also hope to continue the new tradition started with the MNC's Advances and Controversies in Clinical Nutrition meeting, which is now two years old and enormously successful.  Another of my major goals is to broaden the appeal of the MNC beyond clinicians and to better integrate the council into the society. We do a lot of work that is complementary to other councils and other Research Interest Sections (RIS), and I look forward to how we can expand to those partnerships. Within the MNC constituency, I would like to see clinicians being as engaged and active as possible, particularly our young nutrition researchers and doctoral students. This is a very difficult time for students to get a doctorate, because federal funding is so limited. I believe that we at ASN have the opportunity to offer mentoring and guidance that demonstrates to students that there are still fruitful careers offered in nutrition science, despite the funding shortage.

Interviewer: What recommendations do you have for members who are interested in getting more involved in the organization?

Dr. Saltzman: I would tell them to please let me know who you are, what you do, and what you'd like to do.  In fact, I strongly encourage them to contact me directly.  Periodically I do receive calls or e-mails from interested members who are looking to get more involved in the organization or have suggestions about something more we could be doing; I welcome those inquiries

Interviewer: What do you feel is one of the biggest challenges faced by the nutrition field, and what actions can ASN and its members take to help overcome that challenge?

Dr. Saltzman: One major challenge we face is to legitimize nutrition and nutrition research.  Nutrition needs to continue to establish itself as a unique discipline, despite the fact that it is such a major part of so many other disciplines. Part of what we need to achieve this goal is to better define our evidence base in a way that shows the clinical impact of different eating choices and behaviors.  Right now, much of the evidence we have is observational data, but we've learned that translating observational studies to successful interventions does not always ring true, so we really need to have more prospective evidence that nutrition can matter in a critical way.  These are extremely difficult studies to do, which makes it even more difficult to overcome the associations that much of the public has about the "fringe" of the field: the people recommending diets or dietary supplements for which there is absolutely no evidence.  The best way to do that is to continue to develop evidence that achievable dietary recommendations and patterns can make a difference in health.  The other issue that we grapple with is that there is more to nutrition than obesity.  I am an expert in body weight regulation, but we need to remember that there are more facets to nutrition than obesity.

One thing we can do as members is to participate in all of ASN's advocacy efforts.  When ASN requests that we contact Congress or participate in other advocacy events, we need to respond in force.  I think we can also help each other to persevere during times when funding is difficult.  In the same vein, we need to redouble our efforts to train and mentor young investigators and clinicians to ensure that there is a viable future in the field.

August 2012