Ethan A. Bergman, PhD, recently began his term as president of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association), and he wants to help reverse the obesity problem, especially focusing on children, and continue to serve the public and the nation’s largest organization for registered dietitians.

By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator,

At the beginning of this year, the American Dietetic Association officially changed its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. According to the organization, they were “seeking a new name for our organization to better suit our forward-thinking mission and vision: a name that addresses prevention and wellness as well as therapy; a name that would resonate immediately with our members, the public, the media–literally everyone who hears it; and a name that reflects our science-based expertise.”

While the organization has a new name to reflect the changing times, the Academy continues to still focus on serving its membership, which is made up of over 73,000 food and nutrition professionals and the public.

Along with the new name, the Academy has a new president, Dr.  Ethan Bergman. With a respected career in education and research, Dr. Bergman (pictured above) ascends to the presidency of the organization during a time in the nation, which sees itself at a crossroads with how it views nutrition. Besieged by processed and fast foods, Americans’ increasing caloric intakes, and more sedentary lifestyles, the nation has a huge health challenge in the form of obesity. 

And registered dietitians and nutrition professionals are on the front lines treating and meeting with people who are dealing with obesity and possibly one of the many medical issues associated with prolonged obesity: metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

The U.S. is facing this tremendous health battle and the potential medical consequences of having a collectively sick nation with millions more people dealing with any one or a multitude of these medical issues. And this on top of millions of Americans already dealing with many of these health problems.

Dr. Bergman understands this looming medical avalanche, and wants to begin to attack the problem starting with one of the biggest problems: childhood obesity. By effectively teaching America’s youth how to rethink dietary choices, it can be a major policy step to prevent future obesity and help turn things around. 

Dr. Bergman has spent much of his career studying and offering solutions for student school meals. He understands the significance of educating the youth on the burgeoning obesity problem and what the potential consequences are for America’s kids and the medical system if the obesity issue is not addressed in this vulnerable population. 

He believes in tackling the issue in a couple of ways. He fully supports the Academy’s Kids Eat Right  program, which is geared towards helping parents make healthy food choices for their kids. And he wants the Academy to collaborate with similar or like-minded organizations on such issues. spoke to Dr. Bergman about ascending to the presidency; his plans for working on obesity; and how the Academy will continue to work for its members. Can you provide a brief overview of your career?

Bergman: I have been professor of food science and nutrition at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., for the last 26 years. The last 10 years I have also been associate dean in the College of Education with a one-year hiatus as interim dean of student success. 

During that time, I have concentrated research on school meals with studies on timing, plate waste, analysis of the School Nutrition and Dietary Assessment III (SNDAIII) data set and currently analysis of meals served in Healthier US Challenge Schools (HUSSC) compared to lunches brought from home. SNDAIII is national data set from the 48 contiguous states. Information from this data set have identified that school meals are high in sodium and saturated fat. We dug deeper analyzing the relationship between additional factors such as free and reduced status and school meal quality.

The HUSSC schools have met specific guidelines to improve the school environment including school meals. We are specifically comparing HUSSC school meals with lunches brought from home. How does it feel to ascend to the presidency of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics?

Bergman: It is somewhat surreal and humbling to be in this position in the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. I feel I share the responsibility to provide the continuing leadership required to enhance the nation’s health through food and nutrition and to promote the Academy members as food and nutrition leaders and experts through the support provided by the Academy. As you are an authority on children’s and infant’s nutrition, and there is a growing obesity problem in the U.S., what would you like to see be done to start to reverse the trend?

Bergman: Because the problem is multi-dimensional, it is important to collaborate with other organizations that are also part of the solution. You’ve heard the saying that it takes an entire community to raise a child. I believe a parallel strategy would help with approaching the obesity issue in that we all need to work together to identify the components of the problem and come up with realistic solutions. On a fun, unrelated note, how did it feel to represent the Academy by taking part in the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay, and how did you get involved?

Bergman: I felt honored to represent the Academy by carrying the Olympic Torch! It was a privilege and pleasure to carry the torch on July 11 through Basingstoke, England, along with six British citizens who are positive bastions in their communities.

I was selected by Coca-Cola North America, which has been an Olympic sponsor for many years. They were given 22 relay slots from July 9-12. Coca-Cola is promoting the theme, “Live Positively.” To promote this theme, they selected six U.S. health-related professional organizations including, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Family Physicians, The American College of Cardiologists and the National Black Nurses Association as well as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to participate in the relay.

In addition to the six health care organization slots, two former Olympians, Summer Sanders and Michelle Kwan, and 10 outstanding U.S. teenagers who were nominated based on their involvement in making the world a better place were included in the relay team. What are going to be your areas of focus (specific programs/initiatives) during your time in office?

Bergman: The Academy has a strategic plan that drives the work of the Academy and its organizational units. We revise the plan every year based on our member survey and based on the perceived needs of the profession and academy. There is always a strong emphasis on the legislative interactions we seek, including collaborations and cooperation with other organizations, to position Academy members to improve the nation’s health through food and nutrition.

There is also a strong emphasis on helping children and families make good lifestyle choices related to their individual health, which helps promote healthy weight and reduce chronic disease risk. So we as an Academy are devoting resources to help with these areas of concern. We strongly feel that the most ethical and effective way of dealing with chronic problems and disease, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and others, is through prevention. So as an Academy are devoting much effort such as our Kids Eat Right campaign, towards prevention.

The basis for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is to promote good nutrition. Do you or the Academy have any diabetes-specific initiatives or plans?

Bergman: The Kids Eat Right program, mentioned above is a primary example of promoting good nutrition to prevent chronic problems like diabetes. This is a joint venture between the Academy and the Academy Foundation that provides the opportunities for registered dietitians to work in schools along with the physical educators to promote good nutrition along with physical activity. What are dietitians’ greatest strengths in helping treat/care for people with diabetes, and conversely, what area(s) present challenges for them? 

Bergman: Registered dietitians are well-educated to assess clients for diabetes risk factors and then to prescribe plans to reduce the risk factors assessed. RDs are innovative therapists in dealing with prevention as well as working with clients who have been diagnosed with diabetes. There is a mounting database of evidence that supports the financial efficacy of providing the prediabetes screening and the cost savings that follows. The challenges are with reimbursement for these cost-saving assessments and nutrition therapies. Unfortunately this is not currently included in most insurance plans or through the federal programs. What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your tenure?

Bergman: I would love to make progress in the childhood obesity and diabetes issues by collaborating with other organizations. Realistically, the obesity issues won’t be solved in the next year, but progress can be made.

To find out more about the Academy’ s initiatives, go to their website here.To read more about Dr. Bergman’s background, go here.