HEAD TO HEAD WITH Jo Lewis, External Relations and Development Officer – BDA
Can you tell us a little bit about the BDA and the association’s objectives?
The BDA is the Association of UK Dietitians. We’re Europe’s largest membership organization of nutrition professionals with more than 9000 members across all areas of practice. We believe in the right of all to enjoy healthy, nutritious and sustainable food and lifestyles. We do this by developing and supporting activities that help children to have a healthy start to life and enable adults of all ages to maximise their health throughout life.
What attracted you to a career with the BDA?
In food and health, there’s something new to talk about every day! The science moves so quickly, but there is also so much potential for great partnership working. In a typical day I might be chatting to a patient group about an unintentional consequence of the sugar levy for their wellbeing, then I’ll be in a policy meeting on how healthcare professionals can ethically interact with pharma companies, then talking to a food brand about a focus group to get insights from our members.
You represent the BDA Work Ready initiative, what impact has it had to date and how are you changing employer’s attitudes and consumer behavior in the workplace?
BDA Work Ready is my passion project. The wellbeing sector is really fragmented and very new, so when I started getting calls from companies looking to get dietitians in to help them it was really interesting. They instinctively knew that supporting employees with opportunities to make better food and drink choices would be good for everyone, but they didn’t know how to offer something cohesive with a good return on investment. We’re working with a wide range of employers in very different sectors including aviation, communications, healthcare and office workers to offer tailored programmes which fit in with their other staff wellbeing initiatives.
What is the single biggest issue that UK dietitians are tackling today?
Designing services which are accessible and reach the right people. In the NHS (where 2/3 of our members work), dietitians are a key part of the multi-disciplinary teams in clinical areas – so you’ll find a dietitian as part of your cancer care team, or you’ll see someone at home after discharge from hospital. We want to create opportunities for dietitians to have a stronger role in health maintenance too – whether that’s running an IBS clinic to free up GP time or inputting to care pathways to make sure that nutrition is managed optimally. For all our members, these issues can be influenced by the ever growing – and often well meaning – voices of unqualified people in the media whose personal thoughts on food and diet create a lot of confusion in patients.
If you were to have the opportunity to address The House of Commons to pitch the BDA’s aims, what would you say in summary?
Dietitians must be the Go To Profession for Prevention
- Disease related malnutrition is preventable yet on the rise. It costs £13 billion a year in the UK.
- A healthy workforce and increased number of healthy years in retirement is essential to UK productivity and happiness. We all have good days and bad days but what we eat and drink can improve our wellbeing, now and in the long term.
We are pretty early in our journey but I have been really impressed by the quality of the interventions in some food manufacturer like PepsiCo and Marks & Spencer. The interventions are often more robust and well monitored in those businesses – I suppose because that sort of scientific rigour is in their DNA. Also, in the transport sector they’re doing some great wellbeing work which links with staff engagement – so Heart on Track with Mersey Rail is another really good example.