Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon, is a household name in the United States – and beyond. In fact, he’s known wherever CNN airs globally!

So, what a delight it was, then, to hear from him in person as the distinguished opening speaker of 2017’s FNCE, the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Dr Gupta started with CNN in August 2001, just prior to 9/11 — when the entire world changed.  He was immediately thrown into covering the disaster, standing shoulder to shoulder with nurses and doctors who were helping those injured.  From that life-changing experience, he continued on to cover major world events, and to accumulate a series of ongoing, unique perspectives on healthcare at the global level.

He centred on one such observation in his remarks at FNCE: that medicine and the media appear to be disparate — but both have the capacity to help.  Medical information is plentiful, he noted, but we need to transform that into knowledge, and ensure we impart that knowledge to the right people, at the right time.

Why do certain medical messages work or stick with people, he asked us?  Sanjay posited that it’s difficult to measure the impact of medical messages via messages that consumers are receiving from the media.

He likes to consider whether stories start a conversation with others, as evidence of impact. Do people hear the story and share it with others? A successful story will create change in people’s lives, he said – and, whether that change is small or big, it’s always important.

Turning to nutrition, he was stunned that it’s not part of a medical education (to audience applause!). He received no nutrition training as part of his medical degree, he noted with dismay.

 

He then challenged us, as dietitians, to consider the following, as we communicate with our clients:

  • How good are we at defining what a “healthy” diet is?
  • How good are we at personalising our messages?
  • How good are we at avoiding mixed messages?
  • How good are we at being conclusive – meaning, certain and irrefutable in our statements?

 

Dr Gupta then observed that often, as dietitians, we are trying to prove a negative. For example: if you do all the right things, nothing bad will happen to you. Yet this is not the most inspiring message for clients!  Instead, he suggested we change our message to a positive, such as: good food can make you feel good.  Part of our message needs to be telling the “why”; otherwise, it doesn’t stick, and people don’t share it on as a story.

In conclusion, he predicted that the future will be about “personalised medicine” and “personalised nutrition”, incorporating  the use of artificial intelligence. Yet he reiterated we also need to retain the human aspect.

He left us with this provocative thought: what is it we are really trying to achieve – and how do we create a conversation around what we’re trying to achieve, so that it is carried on as a “story” by consumers?

 


— By Maree Ferguson

— Edited by Laura Byrne