American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Sonya Jones, Community and Public Health RIS Chair

Interview with Dr. Sonya Jones, Community and Public Health RIS Chair

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation With Community and Public Health RIS Chair Dr. Sonya Jones

No one knows the importance of public policy to clinical nutrition better than Sonya Jones, Chair of ASN's Community and Public Health Research Interest Section. In addition to her work with ASN, Dr. Jones serves as Deputy Director of the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health. In both roles, Dr. Jones has worked as a tireless supporter of nutrition research and education initiatives. She recently talked to us about her experience with ASN, the importance of the organization's community and policy work, and the personal story that led her to become the public health advocate that she is today.

Interviewer: What first drew you to the field of nutrition?

Dr. Jones: Interestingly enough, it was for entirely personal reasons.   When I first met my husband, he was trying alternative therapies for cancer: taking nutritional supplements and practicing a vegan diet.  I read voraciously on every new therapy he adopted to determine if evidence indicated it would be beneficial or if it could be potentially harmful.   Then my daughter was born, and I had a number of challenges trying to breastfeed her.  We had already adopted a vegan diet, but I started reading the literature regarding breastfeeding promotion and other nutrition literature.  I decided to go back to graduate school, originally, to do breastfeeding promotion, which is how I ended up at the school of public health and in the nutrition department.

Interviewer: When and why did you decide to join ASN?

Dr. Jones: I started graduate school in 1998, and I had a graduate assistantship with Linda Adair, who was a member.   She encouraged me to submit a poster abstract for Experimental Biology, which I attended for the first time in 1999.  I have gone almost every year since.  I decided to maintain my ASN membership after graduate school, because I realized the important role the organization plays in representing nutrition researchers as well as an opportunity for us to network.

Interviewer: What did you find most exciting about your trip to Experimental Biology this year?

Dr. Jones:  The Community and Public Health RIS sponsored a late-breaking symposium that discussed health and sustainability guidelines for vending and concessions.  We were excited to sponsor that session because it is a novel approach to reshaping the food system and working in partnership with industry to create demand for healthier and more sustainably produced food.   That symposium stimulated conversations within our RIS about how we can get more involved in public health policy, so that was one of the real highlights for me.  We also had a well-attended session on food access that summarized the literature on who has access to different food choices and whether such choices are associated with diet. 

Interviewer: What other aspects of your membership do you find most useful?

Dr. Jones: Beyond attending ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology, what I really value about ASN is the important role it plays in public policy and advocacy.  ASN's staff is very attuned to the policy concerns related to nutrition research.  For example, they pay close attention to NIH budget decisions and recently wrote a letter endorsing CDC's Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations. 

Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about your experience as the Chair of the Community and Public Health RIS? Why would you recommend a chair position to other members?

Dr. Jones: Being an RIS Chair has been a very positive experience for me for several reasons.  I've had a great advisory committee of past chairs, which has provided me with an incredible opportunity to engage with leaders in my particular subfield of nutrition.  Another positive aspect is the program planning.  As RIS chair, there is the opportunity to organize each program and to determine what kinds of research conversations will be most productive for members.  There have also been some benefits that I did not anticipate.  Because ASN is working to increase its international footprint, the RIS chairmanship offers some great opportunities to interact with nutrition policymakers from around the world.  For example, they asked us if we could organize a presentation for the World Public Health Nutrition Congress in Portugal, which we were happy to do.  A group of us were also able to attend the Congress. 

Interviewer: What current initiatives is the Community and Public Health RIS working on that you think members would be most interested in?

Dr. Jones: For the past couple of years, we've been working to come to agreement about the food industry's role in public health nutrition research: trying to understand potential conflicts of interest and what they mean for the research we present.  We've recently considered developing a symposium proposal to discuss these issues from our perspective as well as potential solutions for professional organizations like ASN. 

Interviewer: Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like members to know?

Dr. Jones: We have two major symposia under review as well as eight mini-symposia slots for Experimental Biology next year.  The role of public policy is really growing in the society right now, and I think we have a lot to learn from our nutrition science colleagues.  I'm already very excited for next year's meeting!

May 2011