A Dietitian Looks Back on 15 Years of Change in Nutrition Communications

Close your eyes and remember a time before the “miracle on the Hudson” turned Twitter into a source for breaking news, when Facebook was only open to students with a college email address, and before a baby who bit his brother’s finger became one of the first viral videos. This is a frame of reference for when I—a registered dietitian without any formal PR experience—joined Ketchum in March 2006.

A Dietitian Looks Back on 15 Years of Change in Nutrition Communications - young couple enjoys food at a restaurant.jpg

Five years ago this month, I wrote a piece reflecting on my first 10 years at Ketchum, my observations of how nutrition communications had evolved over that time and predictions for the future. While that decade felt momentous—with social media transforming the entire industry, culinary innovation being inspired by emerging digital platforms, new voices breaking through in the food conversation and registered dietitians gaining more seats at the table—the evolution in the years that followed has been on overdrive.

As I enter my 15th year at Ketchum, here are a few more observations from my vantage point at the intersection of the nutrition community and the business of food and nutrition—and implications for marketing and communication professionals.

Cultural Competency Takes Center Plate

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reference sapote, soursop and pomelos, as well as kohlrabi, luffa and nopales, as examples of fruits and vegetables, respectively. The importance of this policy document acknowledging cultural traditions for the first time—in addition to recognizing the role of personal preferences and budgetary considerations in achieving a healthy dietary pattern—cannot be understated.

Implication: Brands need to ensure that the way they market their food and food-related products reflects culinary customs and practices across cultures. Cultural competency should be required in briefs for recipe developers, advertising creative, influencer content, brand spokespeople, etc. Not sure where to start in evaluating your brand’s current communications? Review the guidance here.

Beyond a Nutrition Message

Just a few years ago, it might have been surprising to see a nutrition expert talk about vibrators or period products and period poverty, but registered dietitians have emerged as leading voices in all aspects of health beyond what fuels our bodies—from sexual health, to menstrual health, to reproductive health, including menopause and beyond.

Implication: Consider registered dietitians as potential brand partners across a wide array of industries and purpose-driven topics. These experts with influence can help boost reputation and amplify a brand’s message not only on social media, but through other mediums as well.

New Movements Take the Spotlight

In the last few years, a number of movements within the nutrition community moved from fringe factions in a social media echo chamber to being covered by the mainstream media and driving the news cycle (especially related to brand missteps).

Implications: It’s important for brand managers and marketing and comms professionals in the food and wellness space to be familiar with topics including (but not limited to) body positivity, intuitive eating, health at every size (HAES) and weight bias—and to plan accordingly to reduce reputational risk or, in some cases, to identify advocates.

Inflection Point on Social Justice

It’s impossible to scroll through social media or read the latest nutrition news without it being rooted in addressing social justice issues and elevating minority voices—BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, fat and more. Registered dietitians have been recognized as innovators in social justice when it comes to food insecurity, but this community is organizing itself—and without traditional professional membership organizations and associations—to create systemic change and fight inequality.

Implication: You might want a dietitian’s endorsement, but they don’t want to be marketed to. Brands need to commit to helping the cause, and not only as a call to action for a short-term marketing campaign.

Dietitians Driving Business and Societal ROI

In the past five years, a registered dietitian ran for Congress, took the helm of a food industry non-profit, launched a trailblazing startup that has been invested in by a multinational food company, became general manager for a digital health brand reaching 30 million people a month, and, last month, was named Ketchum’s President of North America. Just last week, three dietitians took on roles in federal government.

Implication: Registered dietitians holding leadership positions in industries beyond dietetics shouldn’t be surprising. My hope is that within the next decade, dietitians in the C-Suite, government and other boardrooms where business and policy decisions are being made will be the norm rather than the exception.

Throughout the month, in celebration of my 15th anniversary at Ketchum, I’ll be sharing more reflections about my own professional journey and intersections with my personal journey on LinkedIn, Instagram and (possibly Clubhouse @jschwartzcohen if my toddler and baby allow me enough time to learn it!). Come join me, or reach out if you’d like to talk directly.

Jaime Schwartz Cohen MS, RD, is SVP, director of Nutrition, based in Ketchum’s New York office. Always wearing two hats as a dietitian and comms pro, Jaime has nearly 20 years of experience combining knowledge and expertise in food, nutrition, and public relations to create award-winning media and KOL relations strategies. Recognized as an innovator in both the PR and nutrition industries, Jaime has been honored among PRWeek’s 40 under 40 (2015), is the recipient of the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Media Excellence Award (2016) and was named Young Dietitian of the Year by the NJ Dietetic Association (2009). When she’s not consuming food and nutrition news, she’s finding balance with yoga, exploring her Hoboken neighborhood and chasing after her four-year-old and 20-month-old sons.