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Public-Private Partnerships in Nutrition: Meeting the Public-Private Communication Challenge

Rowe, Sylvia MA; Alexander, Nick BA

doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000023
Nutrition Communications

Two contemporary trends have converged to create new and increasingly urgent opportunities for public-private research collaborations in nutrition science: (1) the emerging consensus that scientific expertise across a range of disciplines may be necessary to address complex food issues like obesity, dietary behavior change, and so on, and (2) the budgetary pressures of recent years. However, new initiatives to broaden research projects to include both public and industry scientists bring new communication challenges. Research involving private-sector participants has over the past 2 decades been critiqued as being potentially conflicted financially and less transparent than other research, skewed toward profit-motivated outcomes, and the like. Consequently, today’s nutrition communicators need to be aware that trust, conflict-of-interest, and other essentially extrascientific issues may require new strategies in getting key messages across to consumers. This article explores those challenges and offers counsel on meeting them in communicating about the work of emerging public-private partnerships (PPPs), such as the recently announced PPP to enhance the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)–managed national nutrient database to include nutrition information on branded food products.

Nutritionists have much to gain from “PPP” involving food, but there are challenges in getting them off the ground and sustaining them

Sylvia Rowe, MA, is an adjunct professor at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, Massachusetts, and at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is also the president of SR Strategy, a health, nutrition, food safety, and risk communications and issue management consultancy located at Washington, DC. Previously, Ms Rowe served as presidentand chief executive officer of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and IFIC Foundation, nonprofit organizations that communicate science-based information of food safety and nutrition issues to health professionals, journalists, government officials, educators, and consumers.

Nick Alexander, BA, is former senior media counselor for the IFIC Foundation, Washington, DC. He holds a bachelor’s of arts degree from Harvard University. A former network correspondent with ABC News, he has been tracking and writing about science communications issues and the evolving challenge to public acceptance of credible science for the past decade.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Sylvia Rowe, MA, 1100 Connecticut Ave NW, #1000, Washington, DC 20036 (

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins