Interview by Fred Durso, Jr., Nutrition On Demand intern
You could consider Shelley Maniscalco’s nutrition career a three-legged stool. One leg represents science, based on her time at the National Academy of Sciences supporting committees on nutrition-related research. The second leg is communication, which represents Maniscalco’s former role at the International Food Information Council where she effectively disseminated nutrition-related research and topics from this nonprofit to consumers. The final leg is policy, as she led teams that eventually launched USDA’s MyPlate Campaign and communication for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Resting atop the stool sits more than two decades of experience.
Maniscalco founded Nutrition On Demand in 2016 as a way to take what she has learned in previous roles and marry her nutrition science, communication, and policy experience for the benefit of others. In our Q&A with Maniscalco, she discusses the uniqueness of her company, her career trajectory, and what it will finally take for Americans as a whole to start eating better.
Q: Your previous roles focused on effectively communicating nutrition-related issues to the public. What were the challenges in getting those messages out to consumers?
Maniscalco: Collectively, this is a nut we haven’t cracked yet. We still have a knowledge-action gap. We’ve had these Dietary Guidelines in existence for 40 years. While the science [pertaining to the guidelines] gets better all the time, the Guidelines don’t change all that much. With so many people in the know, it might seem intuitive, but people still aren’t adhering to [the Guidelines]. In my opinion, we need more in the way of behavioral science to get to the adherence of the Guidelines rather than hammer home what the recommendations should be. One of our clients, for instance, is doing some great stuff with behavioral scientists and helping people create new fruit and vegetable eating habits.
Other than assisting this client, how else is Nutrition On Demand addressing this issue?
From a thought leader perspective, were beating the drum about the importance of drilling down to that adherence piece. We serve as a strategic advisor to members of health and food industries and the nonprofit world. We always strive to shape the work into something that will create long-term, sustainable change. We’re going to be one very small part of the solution. However, we have a strong advantage because my team and I have seen first-hand how the Dietary Guidelines are created. We have been on that science and policy side. Where I think we can now be most helpful is trying to help others understand how those pieces work and pull it all together so we can all be working toward the same goals.
What else is unique about Nutrition On Demand’s team?
The team members’ experiences. For instance, I’ve been in all of these different spaces in nutrition. I’ve worked with nonprofits, government, the food industry. We have this great network of people bringing their experiences, expertise, and perspectives to the team including those with extensive school nutrition, food assistance program (e.g., SNAP, WIC), food retail, and digital expertise. Tricia Psota [NOD’s managing director] is the only person that I know who has worked on the science, policy, and communications of the Dietary Guidelines. Having that experience, the behind-the-scenes understanding of how the government works, having those connections and understanding to the outside world, and being able to bring them together is so unique.
How did you come up with the idea for Nutrition On Demand?
It was born out of a discussion with my husband, a flip chart, and a bottle of wine. [laughs] What I’ve learned is that the issue of nutrition is not going away. In fact, it’s getting bigger. Within companies, they have mandates to do really important work on nutrition, but a lot of times they’re not staffed or resourced properly. I said to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to work as a consultant and plug those holes a bit and be that high-level relief and support for companies trying to make it over the finish line?
Something else I’ve learned in my career is that I didn’t just want to work on a report and then hand it off to someone else to implement. I wanted to be on the receiving end. I’ve been able to dive into implementation, especially when I worked for the International Food Information Council, particularly on research projects tied to Dietary Reference Intakes, and now through Nutrition On Demand.
I also wanted to feel more connected to people. When you’re at a job and your audience is the general consumer, you don’t know if you’re making a difference. Most people become a dietitian in some way, shape, or form because they want to help people. It’s so rewarding to know that you might be helping even one person. I want to have a really strong group of clients who we work well with together and have them know they can count on us, too.
What are some examples of how you’re offering that help to clients?
We support National Family Meals Month programming and evaluation. We’re creating science-based webinars on the new set of Dietary Guidelines. We’re offering our support in rolling out new research on fruit and vegetable consumption. And more! [Read these testimonials from clients that have worked with Nutrition on Demand.]
Is there something you’re most proud of when looking back on your [almost] five years at Nutrition On Demand?
Wow – it will be five years in March! I feel like everything big and small has been an accomplishment. Every day, we get to work with awesome clients who are doing such amazing things.
This blog is the first in a series of interviews with the Nutrition On Demand team, who will be discussing their diverse careers and unique roles at NOD.
—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.