If there’s one word that could sum up Angela Leone’s extensive career, it’s prevention. Even before becoming a registered dietitian, she set her sights on exploring how healthy eating habits can lead to healthy lives. Leone’s career choices have helped fulfill this dream; she’s held key roles tied to public health and childhood nutrition as a nutritionist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and nonprofits promoting healthy and affordable food options for families.
In our Q&A with Leone, she discusses her career’s focus on prevention, her next chapter at Nutrition On Demand, and working directly and indirectly with a team of health experts to solve the country’s obesity epidemic.
Q: Was there a catalyst that got you into the nutrition field?
When I was in graduate school, I met a friend who was a registered dietitian. She helped me realize that being an RD didn’t mean just working in a hospital. Once I realized the field had so much more to it, I decided to become an RD. And I knew I wanted to be on the prevention end of the health and nutrition world.
Why were you interested in prevention?
Maybe it’s an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That spoke to me. My family’s eating habits were intentionally focused on healthy choices. I like the approach of helping people to make healthy decisions from the start.
How has your career focused on nutrition for public health?
When I first moved to Washington, D.C., before completing my dietetic internship, I did a year as an AmeriCorps member at the Capital Area Food Bank. It was an amazing experience. I helped to coordinate the program Cooking Matters, [an organization aimed at ending childhood hunger by inspiring families to make healthy, affordable food choices], which focuses on prevention. I worked in a classroom-type setting cooking and discussing health eating. Cooking Matters has a focus on teaching low-income populations. That was something that felt good, to be on the side of the angels, to help other people.
I also spent time working at USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and Food and Nutrition Service. In both of those roles, I was able to focus on the prevention side of nutrition, such as MyPlate and the National School Lunch Program.
Looking back on your government roles, what were the highlights?
My work stemming from the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. In it are regulations for USDA to update school nutrition standards, which hadn’t been updated since the ’90s. The act gave the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture the authority to decide which foods can be sold in schools during the school day. I helped to develop the interim final rule for Smarts Snacks in Schools. The goal was to provide healthier snack options to students based on the food groups. Another highlight includes my work at CNPP. I was able to focus on supporting Americans to make healthy eating decisions by using MyPlate to support the recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
When did you leave the USDA?
I left in 2018 and took a leap of faith to go work with Shelley [Maniscalco, Nutrition on Demand’s founder]. It was a bit scary to take that leap, but I knew that I wanted to pursue somewhat of a new path. I wanted to find a working situation to allow me to stay active in the nutrition field and also give me the space and attention to my role as a mother.
What was it about Shelley’s vision for her company that intrigued you?
I think that Shelley does a great job at finding the synergy among the team. I’m a very detailed-oriented person. Shelley is great at seeing that whole landscape. Our approach at Nutrition On Demand is that you are getting access to a variety of nutrition professionals who bring their own perspectives and strengths in different areas – there will be times when our clients need and want big picture thinking and times when they want my eagle eye. We offer that support, step back, and come back in and offer that support again later down the line. We help to fulfill nutritional needs and gaps along the way. I think that for clients looking for a one-stop nutrition shop, this is the place.
What have you been working on at Nutrition On Demand?
I’m once again working with Cooking Matters. It’s been very rewarding to be back in touch with the role that first brought me to the DC area. We develop social media content for them. It’s a team effort between the whole Nutrition On Demand staff, and I love being able to offer support.
Through your work at Nutrition On Demand, how do you see yourself addressing the country’s obesity epidemic?
The epidemic is a public health issue that no one person can solve alone. It’s a team effort from all of us, companies like Nutrition On Demand and other dietitians working in the public health field. We’re on the same team, something we may not realize. Supporting people to eat healthier, improving adherence to the Dietary Guidelines, ultimately facilitating an increase in the Healthy Eating Index, these are things that take a concerted effort from many people. I think for us, at Nutrition On Demand, we are providing one solution at a time to clients by tailoring needs to our teams’ competencies. We’re able to provide resources that will help reach those targeted audiences with food and nutrition messaging best suited for them.
—Interview conducted by Fred Durso, Jr. Fred is currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade working as a journalist/communications specialist.