American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. James O. Hill, Past ASN President

Interview with Dr. James O. Hill, Past ASN President

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice

To say Dr. James O. Hill is a leader in the fight against the global obesity epidemic would be quite an understatement. He has served as the first chair of the World Health Organization Consultation on Obesity, participated in NIH's Expert Panel on Obesity, and is the co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry. He is also the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver and is the author of The Step Diet, published in 2004.

More recently, Dr. Hill completed his tenure as the President of ASN's Executive Board. With the help of his leadership expertise, ASN has continued its development as the foremost organization for the support of clinical nutrition and research. His work with The Step Diet also helped ASN to create its innovative Small Steps program, which focuses on fighting the obesity epidemic through small, sustainable life changes. As his Presidency came to a close, Dr. Hill was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about his continuing work with ASN and his experience as a leader in the field of nutrition.

Interviewer: How did you first get involved with ASN and what drove you to do so?

Dr. Hill: I was both a member of the American Institute of Nutrition (AIN) and the American Society of Clinical Nutrition (ASCN) for years because they were the best nutrition organizations out there.Obviously, when they combined to create ASN, I continued my membership.

Interviewer: And how did you come to those two organizations, initially? I know some of our members have been with us since undergrad.

Dr. Hill: I didn't get involved as an undergrad.My degree is actually in psychology, and I migrated to nutrition later in my career. During the first five or six years of my career, I began to get interested in nutrition, particularly in clinical nutrition, and joined these societies.

Interviewer: How has your membership with ASN aided your career, particularly your work combating the global obesity epidemic?

Dr. Hill: There are a lot of benefits of the interactions that you get through ASN--through the Experimental Biology meeting, working on committees, and other activities--because it is so devoted to the issues I really care about.You get to meet and interact with the most talented nutrition scientists.The annual meeting is superb as a place for networking, and a place to learn what is new in the field.The journals are also absolutely a must to read for anybody in the field.

Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about your path to the ASN presidency?

Dr. Hill: The opportunity to run for president came out of the blue.I wasn't anticipating it, but I was incredibly honored.I had a lot on my plate, so I had to think long and hard about doing it, because I know what a commitment it is.I knew the job would take a lot of work and a lot of effort so I did a lot of soul searching.I knew I that I believed in the organization and I thought I had the leadership skills to do the job, so I dived in.It has been a tremendous amount of work but it has also been a really gratifying experience.

Interviewer: Coming into your presidency, what were your priorities for the organization?

Dr. Hill: They really all relate around one big issue, which was to make ASN more relevant.At the end of the day, that has a lot of ramifications.What we really want is to increase the quality of nutrition science, and the funding for nutrition science.I believe the way you do that is to really showcase that your organization is relevant and that its members make a difference in people's lives.Through the talented staff we have at ASN we were able to significantly increase our visibility in a number of ways: in the media, doing a good job of having ASN out there, and commenting on important nutritional issues.Now we are getting contacted to comment on important nutritional issues.We've also been able to be very effective at recommending people for high-level positions--government committees and so forth.I think everybody--government, the media, and the public--perceives ASN as a relevant organization.That kind of recognition is really what helps us secure more funding for nutrition research.

The other thing I really am big on is partnerships.We have formed several collaborations or the beginnings of several collaborations with different sorts of organizations that are going to serve ASN's membership well in the future.Even though we are the preeminent organization in nutrition, you've got groups like the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine and The Obesity Society through which we can partner to address obesity.The American Dietetic Association is a great partner that is also devoted to promoting good nutrition.

Interviewer: What achievements from your presidency are you most proud of?

Dr. Hill: I am very proud of that ASN has reached the level where people and organizations are seeking us out for interaction and partnerships.We have increased our relevance to a point that we now don't have to drive everything.We are contacted because of the impact we have on nutritional sciences.

I am also proud that I was able to continue the work of previous ASN presidents in helping our annual meeting get better and better each year.I think it really is now a “can't miss” meeting for anybody interested in nutritional sciences.

Interviewer: Tell us a little about the Small Steps Program, and about the Step Diet, how did they come about?

Dr. Hill: I've been interested over the past several years in how we really take on the obesity epidemic.The strategy that has been too often used is trying to get people to make big lifestyle changes that aren't sustainable and lead to this weight-loss, weight-regain cycle.I've come to believe that if we are to avoid that cycle, the best approach is one based on small changes.You start where people are now and get them to make small changes that are sustainable over time, starting out with preventing weight gain.Of course it would be great to take everyone who is overweight and obese and get them down to a normal weight, but if we could stop the one-to-two-pounds of weight gain that most people experience every year, over a generation or two we could completely reverse this obesity epidemic.That's something people can do.It's very difficult to make and sustain big changes; that's why almost nobody succeeds at weight loss long-term.So I've been promoting this small changes approach that's really caught on widely.Many organizations are now approaching the obesity epidemic from the perspective of small lifestyle changes.Over time it will be sufficient to reverse the obesity epidemic.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you would want ASN members to know?

Dr. Hill: I think that ASN is one of the most exciting, vibrant, effective organizations that I've ever been associated with.I urge folks in the organization who have the opportunity to assume leadership positions in ASN to really give serious consideration to doing this. We need our most talented members to step forth and help make sure the ASN future is bright.Being ASN President has been a lot of work, but it has been one of the most rewarding and fun things that I have ever done in my career.ASN is only going to get better--everything is heading in the right direction.