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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Which ethics principles are of greatest concern when communicating nutrition?

Dictionary open with a magnifying glass highlighting the word ethics

In last week’s post, we explored the importance of communication skills in elevating the nutrition expert to a nutrition authority. Along with having greater impact and influence, an authority is bound by ethical principles, as outlined in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Code of Ethics.

Chapter 9 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide covers the important topic of ethics for nutrition communicators.

“The nutrition professional is charged with communicating nutrition information to the public that can be trusted as truthful, accurate, and nonbiased. The Academy/CDR Code of Ethics provides language to guide the decision-making process in this realm.”

What is the Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession?

The Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession was established by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

According to Chapter 9 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, the purpose of the Code is “to guide the nutrition professional through the process of ethical decision-making in all practice settings.”

The Code has four fundamental principles:

  1. Competence and professional development in practice (Non-maleficence)

  2. Integrity in personal and organizational behaviors and practices (Autonomy)

  3. Professionalism (Beneficence)

  4. Social responsibility for local, regional, national, global nutrition and well-being (Justice).

These four guiding principles are supported by 32 standards. Nearly half of these standards are closely related to nutrition communication.

Which ethics standards speak to communicating nutrition?

The following 15 standards are the most closely related to the role of nutrition professionals when communicating nutrition:

Standard 1.a: “Practice using an evidence-based approach within areas of competence, continuously develop and enhance expertise, and recognize limitations.”

Standard 1.b: “Demonstrate in-depth scientific knowledge of food, human nutrition, and behavior.”

Standard 1.c: “Assess the validity and applicability of scientific evidence without personal bias.”

Standard 1.e: “Make evidence-based practice decisions, taking into account the unique values and circumstances of the patient/client and community, in combination with the practitioner’s expertise and judgment.”

Standard 1.f: “Recognize and exercise professional judgment within the limits of individual qualifications and collaborate with others, seeking counsel, and make referrals as appropriate.”

Standard 1.g: “Act in a caring and respectful manner, mindful of individual differences, cultural, and ethnic diversity.”

Standard 1.h: “Practice within the limits of their scope and collaborate with the interprofessional team.”

Standard 2.a: “Disclose any conflicts of interest, including any financial interests in products or services that are recommended. Refrain from accepting gifts or services which potentially influence or which may give the appearance of influencing professional judgment.”

Standard 2.c: “Maintain and appropriately use credentials.”

Standard 2.e: “Provide accurate and truthful information in all communications.”

Standard 3.b: “Respect the values, rights, knowledge, and skills of colleagues and other professionals.”

Standard 3.c: “Demonstrate respect, constructive dialogue, civility, and professionalism in all communications, including social media.”

Standard 3.d: “Refrain from communicating false, fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, disparaging, or unfair statements or claims.”

Standard 3.f: “Refrain from verbal/physical/emotional/sexual harassment.”

Standard 3.h: “Communicate at an appropriate level to promote health literacy.”

How can nutrition professionals communicate nutrition with high ethical standards?

Chapter 9 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide closes with four key points to summarize the answer to this question. I will paraphrase them succinctly and personally:

  • Communicate in a manner that reflects our profession’s Code of Ethics.

  • Communicate nutrition information that is science-based, truthful, accurate, and nonbiased.

  • Communicate and disclose all conflicts of interest.

  • Assure all actions and communications are beyond reproach. Consult the Code or a mentor.

For more on being a trusted nutrition authority, see last week’s post.

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” ~ Potter Stewart

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