A Conversation with ASN's Public Policy Committee (PPC) Chair Susan Hutson, PhD, and Director of Government Relations, Sarah Ohlhorst, MS, RD
As home to renowned nutrition researchers across the globe, ASN is
dedicated to enhancing scientific knowledge in nutrition and
health. The combined expertise of our members is critical for the
Society's advocacy efforts. These efforts have become even
more important in the current political and economic climate, and
the PPC works to ensure that our members' essential research
priorities are communicated. PPC Chair Susan Hutson and ASN
Director of Government Relations Sarah Ohlhorst recently sat down
to discuss the PPC's goals for the next year, and to offer advice
for members who are interested in becoming more involved in
Interviewer: Dr. Hutson,
what is your role as chair of ASN's Public Policy Committee?
Dr. Hutson: My role is to
handle the research side. While Sarah interfaces directly with
Capitol Hill and brings current issues to the committee, I provide
leadership to the committee itself. Sarah and I also work
together to ensure that any concerns our members have are brought
before the committee. It really is a partnership.
Interviewer: What are the
Public Policy Committee's priorities?
Dr. Hutson: One of ASN's
primary goals is to advocate for funding for nutrition research.
With the current economic situation, money for research will be
tight or highly competitive. For that reason, we decided that
the PPC needed to focus our efforts. So the committee polled 75 top
thought leaders in the field and asked them for their top research
priorities in nutrition. We have collated that information, and ASN
has convened a working group to further analyze and prioritize
those responses to focus on several key areas. The findings will
then be presented to the membership at ASN's Scientific
Sessions & Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology (EB)
April 21-25, 2012 at a workshop called “The Future of Nutrition
Research,” allowing us to get more member feedback. This
process will ultimately result in a list of nutrition research
priorities that Sarah can use in her advocacy work.
Ms. Ohlhorst: In addition to
nutrition research, the PPC also works to advocate for funding to
support nutrition monitoring. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and
the “What We Eat in America” portion conducted through the USDA's
Agricultural Research Service are invaluable to ASN, because they
help build a base for the research that ASN members conduct.
Interviewer: As you point
out, funding cuts provide a major obstacle for nutrition research.
What other challenges do you foresee in the coming year?
Ms. Ohlhorst: I expect 2012
may be difficult from an advocacy perspective because it is an
election year, which can make it hard to keep the focus on our
issues. Funding may also become an even more prominent concern
following the Congressional Super Committee's failure to come up
with a plan to reduce the federal deficit. That means grant
funding that many of our members receive is likely to be subject to
the 9% across-the-board cuts in 2013.
Dr. Hutson: Another ongoing
challenge unique to nutrition advocacy is that it is a component of
many different diseases. This is an obstacle especially when
working with the National Institutes of Health, because nutrition
research is spread across so many different institutes. This means
that we need to communicate with a much wider network of people,
which can make it more difficult to advocate than if you're focused
on a specific disease.
Interviewer: What solutions
does ASN see to some of these challenges?
Ms. Ohlhorst: In some ways,
ASN is a solution in and of itself, particularly in reference to
Susan's point about nutrition being spread over so many
disciplines. ASN brings together nutrition researchers,
regardless of the agency that funds their work. It allows
them to collaborate on projects that benefit all of us. That
is another thing that developing organization-wide research
priorities will achieve, because we are bringing members from so
many different disciplines into the process.
Interviewer: How can members
get more involved in advocating for ASN's priorities?
Dr. Hutson: One great thing,
certainly, would be to attend the Future of Nutrition Research workshop on
April 24, 2012, 10:30 am-12:30 pm in San Diego to provide input on
nutrition research priorities. The PPC has held advocacy training
for interested members and plans to do this more in the future. The
training would help these members learn how to effectively convey
their priorities in a short amount of time.
Ms. Ohlhorst: In addition,
we send a
public policy-focused newsletter to members twice a
month. I encourage members to read that newsletter to stay
informed about what ASN is doing from an advocacy perspective and
to participate in calls for action.
reauthorization of the Farm Bill is fast approaching. What
potential issues does ASN hope to see the 2012 bill address, and
what obstacles do you foresee to ensuring those issues are properly
Ms. Ohlhorst: The PPC
organized a working group on the Farm Bill to help identify the
priorities that ASN would like to see included during
reauthorization, including funding for nutrition research and
appropriations for nutrition monitoring. The last Farm Bill
included language from ASN about nutrition monitoring. We would
like to see similar language included in this bill as well as
language emphasizing the importance of nutrition research.
I think it may be a bit of a challenge to make sure that our voice
is heard, because it is such a complex bill with so many different
components. Nutrition research and monitoring are a very
small portion of the bill, so it is important that we work to make
sure that our priorities are noticed. The working group did
discuss many other issues that are in the Farm Bill, such as
nutrition education and the supplemental nutrition assistance
program, but we felt that in the current climate, we really had to
focus our priorities more narrowly. If the Farm Bill gets the
attention it deserves, and if it is discussed adequately on the
Hill, we could see some major changes.
Interviewer: What do you
find most rewarding about nutrition advocacy?
Ms. Ohlhorst: It is so
rewarding when legislators or agencies reach out to ASN as the
go-to organization to discuss their nutrition concerns. It is also
just a gratifying time to be in the nutrition profession and to be
involved with an organization like ASN, because of the growing
national focus on nutrition.
Dr. Hutson: Advocacy is
wonderful because it gives us the opportunity to see our research
have a broader impact. It's also amazing just to have the chance to
contribute to the nutrition community as a whole. We get to see the
big picture, talk to members from across the board, make
connections, find new ways to look at nutrition, and identify
some of the needs and gaps.
Editor's Note: Dr. Hutson and Ms. Ohlhorst also encourage
members with interest or questions about ASN's advocacy program to
contact them. Email Dr. Hutson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ms. Ohlhorst