By Dietetic Intern: Lily Sheridan
The Maryland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (MAND) held the annual Advocacy Day event in person for the first time since COVID in Maryland’s state capital, Annapolis, this past February. MAND organizes the day and invites dietetic interns, registered dietitians (RDs), and the MAND lobbyists to participate. MAND provides support, comments, and amendments to many health and nutrition related bills during the legislative session. For Advocacy Day, the focus was on six bills related to nutrition that MAND was supporting. I was fortunate to attend the MAND 2023 Advocacy Day this year! Come along as I share my experience with you.
In the morning we discussed each of the six bills: what they stood for and how they were relevant to dietitians in the state of Maryland. After learning about the important pending bills, it was time to meet with legislators and their staff to advocate for the bills and provide more information on the expertise that dietitians can provide. We were split into small groups each led by experienced registered dietitians/MAND members. Each group met with different legislators. As nutrition professionals and soon-to-be professionals, we could approach the conversation with a unique perspective and area of expertise.
The six bills included:
- Public Schools – Anaphylactic Food Allergies Guidelines ( HB0078/SB0120)
- Primary and Secondary Education – Breakfast and Lunch Programs – Universal Expansion (HB0628/SB0557)
- Education – Maryland Meals for Achievement In-Classroom Breakfast Program – Annual Appropriation (HB0514/SB0559)
- Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2023 (SB0534)
- Counties and State Legislative Districts – Food Environment Reports (HB0008)
- Maryland Food System Resilience Reports (HB0032)
Since time was limited with the legislators, it was important to be strategic in how information was communicated. My group decided to pick bills where we could tie personal experience and nutrition knowledge together to share with our delegates why the bill is worth supporting. This tactic was very successful, and we found out the Anaphylactic Food Allergies Guidelines bill even passed in the House of Representatives on the very morning we were there!
The bills I have personal experience to share included expanding the Breakfast and Lunch Program to be universal in schools, and the “In Classroom Breakfast Program Meals for Achievement” bill. Growing up in Maryland, I attended a public high school where several students relied on these programs for a hot meal. It made me realize how people my age were struggling with food security and it hit close to home. The Breakfast and Lunch program directly addresses the needs of these students. Making these meals universal would expand access to all students, and therefore, would not isolate or single out the students that rely on them. Additionally, if students need before school breakfast and are late to school, the “In Class Breakfast Program Meals for Achievement” will still allow them to eat once classes have begun. Students go to school to learn and should not have to worry about when their next nutritious meal will be.
Understanding the role of nutrition policy as a future dietitian is so important! Policy plays a role in dietitians’ work environments, how they can reach clientele, the type of licensing required for practice, and the health of those that they are working with. Food insecurity, sustainability, and cultural inclusiveness regarding food are policy focuses at a state and federal level.
With the experience and knowledge I gained from the MAND 2023 Advocacy Day and my dietetic internship, I plan to be more involved in health and nutrition legislation at the state and federal level. I will educate myself on how policy can be changed and implemented and the current bills introduced. Then, I will write to or meet with my legislators and use my voice to advocate for what I believe in to positively influence the lives of my peers and community members regarding health and nutrition. There are many ways to be involved and learn more. You can write to your local representative, educate people around you, and attend in-person events to influence legislation. How can you be more involved in advocating for changes?
UMD Dietetic Internship Class outside of Harry Browne’s in Annapolis, MD.