Due to extensive processes, government websites tend to be behind the scientific community in communicating evolving evidence, particularly nutrition science. This contrasts with the plethora of books, non-government websites, and social media content, readily available to the public, that promote research and other popular food and nutrition topics.
Consumers have a high level of trust in health professionals and in government sources for credible, authoritative, and up-to-date information on food, health, and nutrition. An absence of information on government websites can: 1) prevent health professionals from having access to credible nutrition data and information to convey to the public; 2) give the impression that actionable, science-based nutrition information is lacking, when it is not; and/or 3) leave an information vacuum for less credible sources to fill.
Science Communication is a Journey
Throughout the scientific process, there are ample opportunities for communication breakdown in the absence of credible voices:
- The research needs to be solid – including, but not limited to, employing methodology that is sound and robust, as well as published regardless of outcome to benefit the aggregate knowledge of the nutrition science community.
- Intermediaries need to be properly trained to understand the scientific evidence and well-equipped to communicate it to those with lower levels of the nuances within nutrition science understanding. Intermediaries can include media/journalists, government, health professionals, and other influencers.
- Finally, there is the receipt of the information by the consumer. Particularly in our “information surround sound” age, we must enable consumers to be savvy in distinguishing between what is real, what is sensational and/or one-sided, and what is downright untrue.
Determining if Published Topics are Communicated on .Gov Websites
Nutrition On Demand, on behalf of our client the Hass Avocado Board (HAB) Avocado Nutrition Center (ANC), conducted a landscape analysis of common health and nutrition topics published in the four preeminent nutrition journals published by the American Society of Nutrition (ASN) (The Journal of Nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Advances in Nutrition, and Current Developments in Nutrition) that highlight basic, clinical, and emerging nutrition science research.
- Analyze the frequency in which common health and nutrition topics are being published in journals; and
- Understand the extent to which government websites serve as a credible professional and/or consumer resource on top nutrition topics researched.
- We chose popular health and nutrition topics to query for in the four ASN journals:
- Key diet-related health topics (e.g., diabetes, insulin resistance, cardiovascular health, metabolic syndrome, gut health, cognitive health, cancer);
- Physiologic endpoints (e.g., visceral adiposity, lipoprotein classes, inflammation markers, nutrients (phytonutrients, carotenoids, dietary fats, short-chain fatty acids, lutein)); and
- Other hot topics (e.g., macronutrient distribution, glycemic index and load, FODMAP diet, microbiome, MIND Diet, quality of life measures, disparity in health markers for Hispanic Americans).
- We measured the number of times these topics were included in studies published in these journals during a three-year period (January 2019 – November 2021).
- We assessed the extent to which the top 10 studied topics were found on government websites.
The Gut Proved a Disconnect on Public Websites
The following key findings are further illuminated in the report, where you will find the full methodology, results, and discussion, including the top topics by journal and by year:
- The microbiome, gut health, and fiber dominated published nutrition research.
- These top topics persist over time, yet there is a paucity of information on government websites for the top topics published in the four ASN journals in a recent three-year period.
- Most of the available information does not make the link to nutrition and health and/or is not readily actionable for consumers.
The Village of Science Communication
It takes a village to support consumers in accessing science-based nutrition information, and it’s the responsibility of high-profile, trusted entities, such as federal, state, and local government and scientific organizations, to accurately communicate the current state of the science. And, because there’s so much disinformation and clutter that can lead to consumer confusion, it’s never been more critical for nutrition, health, and science organizations, as well as academic institutions, to promote their science-backed efforts across their platforms to help elevate credible, evidence-supported recommendations.