Due to rapid advancements in information and communication technology (ICT), dietetics professionals have seemingly endless opportunities to provide evidence-based recommendations, dialogue, support, resources, and partnerships via digital media that foster civic engagement, which may play a role in reducing health disparities afflicting communities.
In the Code of Ethics (COE) for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession, dietetics professionals are expected to adhere to several core values, including social responsibility. Principle #4 in the COE pertains to “Social responsibility for local, regional, national, global nutrition and well-being” (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). The following ethical standards reflect the core value of social responsibility:
“a. Collaborate with others to reduce health disparities and protect human rights.
b. Promote fairness and objectivity with fair and equitable treatment.
c. Contribute time and expertise to activities that promote respect, integrity, and competence of the profession.
d. Promote the unique role of nutrition and dietetics practitioners.
e. Engage in service that benefits the community and to enhance the public’s trust in the profession.
f. Seek leadership opportunities in professional, community, and service organizations to enhance health and nutritional status while protecting the public” (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
In our duties aimed at addressing social justice issues pertaining to food and nutrition, dietetics professionals can utilize digital technology as a powerful tool for civic engagement to address the COE standards, as described above.
Utilizing digital media as a tool for civic engagement with a focus on community health aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Standard for Coaches 7a: Digital Citizen Advocate: “Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities” (International society for Technology in Education).
In a peer-reviewed journal article titled, “Shaping Social Networks to Reduce Health Disparities: The Nexus between Information Dissemination and Valid Discussion,” the following considerations are discussed, which may apply to the efforts of dietetics professionals when partnering with communities, via digital media platforms, to join forces in the collective efforts directed at reducing health disparities:
- Establish local online health-focused communities: Community members, rather than thought of as having a passive role in healthcare, must be viewed and respected as “smart and capable collaborators” (p. 2);
- Community members should have opportunities to engage with others who have similar health-related needs;
- Health-focused online communities can be designed as virtual groups or networks, and are implemented to provide social support and interpersonal communications, resources, community engagement, and collaboration;
- Social media sites can be used as two-way communication tools (vs. one way communication tools) to engage communities on issues that affect their collective health and livelihood;
- Social media sites can be utilized to promote social norms, which may enhance health and reduce risk of disease (Starland-Davenport et al., 2016).
Further, community members with similar healthcare needs may benefit from online social networks by receiving encouragement, emotional support, and sharing of information, which may result in increased self-efficacy and empowerment towards goal attainment. In a blog post on the use of social media in healthcare, Newberry (2020) states that “nearly 40% of young people (ages 14 to 22) have used online tools to connect with others with similar health challenges. That includes social media groups.”
Virtual social support, whether organized as community groups with similar healthcare needs, one-on-one communications with a healthcare provider, or a community group including a healthcare moderator, may augment traditional healthcare, which may enhance the overall health and well-being of communities. Additionally, Newberry (2020) asserts that Facebook groups are being created to bring patients together with similar healthcare experiences to offer support, education, and opportunities for group discussions with healthcare moderators.
In conclusion, dietetics professionals are charged with a social responsibility to provide their expertise in ways that enhance the health and wellness of communities. Digital technology tools provide the ability to connect, engage, and support community members in new and promising ways in our efforts to reduce health disparities.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession. https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/code-of-ethics/what-is-the-code-of-ethics
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Newberry, C. (2020). How to use social media in healthcare: A guide for health professionals. https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-health-care/
Starland-Davenport, A, Booth, B, Kieber-Emmons, A, Topologlo, U, Hogan, W, Thomas Kieber-Emmons. (2016). Shaping Social Networks to Reduce Health Disparities: The Nexus between Information Dissemination and Valid Discussion. Health Systems and Policy Research, 3(2), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.21767/2254-9137.100030