American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Joanne Foody, EB14 Speaker

Interview with Dr. Joanne Foody, EB14 Speaker

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with ASN Scientific Sessions Speaker Dr. Joanne Foody

ASN's Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2014 feature in-demand scientific speakers. ASN recently spoke with one of the many exciting presenters from this year's meeting, Dr. Joanne Foody, director of the Cardiovascular Wellness Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Dr. Foody, who also serves as an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, will be presenting as part of the sponsored satellite program, “Deciphering the Evidence Behind Whole Food Nutrition and Disease Risk Reduction” on Friday, April 25, 8:30 am-12:30 pm, sponsored and organized by California Walnut Commission. Organized and sponsored by external groups, these live and in-person events offer free continuing education credits for Registered Dietitians. Her co-presenters include Dr. Johanna Dwyer of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and Tufts University School of Medicine; Dr. Roger Clemens of the USC School of Pharmacy; Dr. Linda Tapsell of the University of Wollongong; and Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, Senior Vice President, Nutrition & Food Safety, International Food Information Council. In this interview, Dr. Foody discusses her presentation, “Translation and Utilization of Science-Based Evidence by Health Professionals: Bring the Science to the Dinner Table,” as well as her thoughts on the state of nutrition research and practice.

Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming sponsored satellite program at EB where you are speaking? What should attendees expect from your session?

Dr. Foody: As a preventive cardiologist, a lot of what I do is about determining the best strategies to reduce heart disease risk.  My presentation will review the evidence base for nutritional approaches that achieve that goal. About 90 percent of heart disease is preventable on a population basis, and about 30 percent of the risk of developing cardiovascular conditions can be attributed to poor nutrition and poor exercise habits. Based on those figures, there is tremendous opportunity in the field to better understand how nutrition can fight heart disease, which is what we will be exploring at the program.

Interviewer: Where do you see research in this area going in the next several years or where would you ideally like to see it go?

Dr. Foody: From a national, and even an international perspective, we are attempting to determine how to improve population health. Cardiology has often focused on fixing the problem at the end stage of the disease, but we have realized that is bankrupting our healthcare system.  I think over the next decade, there will be much more focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent disease, particularly in regards to nutrition. There are already a number of national initiatives designed to put more focus on nutrition and nutritional science as a way of addressing cardiovascular disease.

Interviewer: Could you tell us about other current research interests?

Dr. Foody: Many of the studies that I am involved in are about community-based interventions.  These interventions seek to help patients improve their diet and their heart-healthy activity on a daily basis. Many of these interventions focus not just on how to bring good nutrition to people, but how we can do so in culturally competent ways. There is no way that we can integrate the science behind good nutrition into people's daily lives unless we recognize that people's understanding of food and of disease is different.

Interviewer: What are the biggest challenges facing nutrition (in research and in practice)? Are there ways that meetings like EB can help us overcome those challenges?

Dr. Foody: Our biggest challenge is that we do not live in a society that promotes health. As a nutrition community, we need to think about how we can better align the evidence with public health and public policy that ensure everyone has access to good nutritional food. We can also work with individual patients to better understand what the motivating factors are behind their food choices. Only by addressing those barriers can we really be successful.

In order to inform policy, we have to have science that is rigorous, which is where meetings like Experimental Biology come into play. Once that science is in place, organizations like ASN can use the evidence to support advocacy efforts working on a patient level, within local communities, on a regional level, and on a national level. Right now, we often lack the funding to support preventative therapies like nutritional counseling, but those are things that from an advocacy perspective that ASN really has the opportunity to drive.

Interviewer: How did you first get involved in nutrition? What made you decide to pursue a career in preventive cardiology?

Dr. Foody: Unfortunately, I have had many family members affected by heart disease, and through my medical career I have seen the devastating toll that cardiovascular disease takes on people. I also found, however, that the seeds of heart disease risk factors tend to be sown much earlier in people's lives than we are aware. We have seen over the last 20 years an enormous rise in lack of good nutrition and exercise habits, which has driven us to seek out better interventions to improve these habits. I began to get involved in these efforts during my time at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, where I worked on initiatives to bring better nutrition into schools. From Cleveland, I moved on to Yale, where we partnered with the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to develop programs to improve nutrition and weight maintenance in veteran populations.

March 2014