Nutrition is a Science: Women of Influence

This year marked both the Association for Nutrition’s (AfN) 10th anniversary and 100 years since some women first got the vote. To celebrate both of these milestones, the AfN ran talks and an exhibition at their annual general meeting which highlighted the roles that women have played in nutritional science over the years.

The field of nutrition is constantly evolving, with new research and developments coming to light all the time. It is an important part of a nutritionist’s job to keep up to date and informed of these developments, but it can be easy to forget to appreciate how far nutritional science has come. The nutritionists working on the Low Carb Program went along to the one-day event to find out more about the history of nutrition and women in science.

Anyone who has ever searched for nutrition advice on the internet will know that immediately you are presented with a plethora of such information. To say this can be confusing at the best of times is an understatement. Although there are many positives to having such widely available nutrition information, there are negatives as well. For one thing, it can be extremely difficult to know who to trust – the title of ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by statute, meaning that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist if they want to. Unfortunately, this means that widely available nutrition information, particularly that found online, is often misleading and inappropriate.

As a registered charity and independent regulator for Registered Nutritionists in the UK, the AfN aims to change this. They manage the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists meaning only individuals who have completed appropriate nutrition education at degree level can be accepted to the register and use the title of Registered Nutritionist or Registered Associate Nutritionist. Although it is not a legal requirement for nutritionists to be on the AfN register, choosing to get advice from an AfN registered nutritionist means you can be safe in the knowledge that they know their stuff.

The AfN annual discourse, #NutritionIsAScience: Women of Influence, heard talks from prominent women in nutrition. Professor Susan Lanham-New, Dr Margaret Ashwell, Professor Alison Gallagher and Professor Julie Lovegrove all spoke about women in nutritional sciences who have influenced and inspired them in their work today.

Nutritional science has progressed in leaps and bounds over the years. Some women have played a pivotal role in this progression and have greatly influenced where we are today. For example, without the work of Elsie Widdowson and her research partner Robert McCance, the health of the nation during the Second World War might have been very different. Food rations were based on their research into how people in Britain could stay healthy in the face of shortages. Their book, The Composition of Foods, was the product of extensive research into the chemical compositions of food and became the go-to resource in nutritional science for many years.

Similarly, the work of Harriette Chick, Cicely Williams and Pat Jelliffe, to name a few, was significant in furthering our understanding of the role of vitamins, child and maternal nutrition, breastfeeding and malnutrition. Women currently working in nutrition, such as Professor Jo Fallowfield and Alison Tedstone, were also mentioned for their contributions to the field.

It was inspiring to hear about how much women have, and continue to, influence the field of nutrition, but several of the speakers mentioned the importance of encouraging men to get involved in what is a mostly female dominated field. Acknowledging the work of these women is important, but of equal importance is the acknowledgment of work that women, and men, continue to do in nutrition, to ultimately try and improve health around the world.

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