Opening Session Remarks

Presented by Academy President Sonja L. Connor, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

2014 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo
Atlanta, Ga.
October 18, 2014

Growing up on the plains of Western Kansas in the 1950s where Sonja’s mother ran a diner, she always said: "No matter what I do in life, for sure it will have nothing to do with food."

Well, so much for that idea. Clearly, I am not in Kansas anymore.

Welcome to Atlanta, and our great Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. There's no place like home. I’m so honored to serve as your Academy President for 2014-2015.

You know, my life experiences have created my approach to leadership that I believe have influenced my contributions to dietetics and to the Academy.

First, of course, growing up in Kansas...

And then, I had the great fortune to spend all 47 years of my professional life as a research scientist in a group that was led by my late husband and mentor, Bill, who was also an honorary member of the Academy.

Our research group thought outside the box. We did cutting-edge research on coronary risk factors and omega-3 fatty acids – first on lipids and thrombosis, then on the developing brain and retina, from monkeys to term- and preterm-infants that contributed to the addition of DHA to infant formulas.

And, from 1978 to 1984, we carried out a community intervention study in which 233 families worked at changing to heart-healthy eating habits – far before anyone was thinking about heart-healthy eating for the population.

We were always challenged to do more than we ever thought we could do – so we did. We were challenged ... we were inspired. That’s one of my main goals for my President's Page in the Journal – to challenge and inspire you to use the resources of the Academy.

Rarely, if ever, in our history has there been so much excitement and activity at the Academy – all geared around advancing our careers as the world's leading food and nutrition practitioners.

I am amazed by all that our Academy staff and volunteer leaders have produced for members – helping empower us to be the food and nutrition leaders so we can optimize health through food and nutrition. I hope you will be inspired to use our resources – and that they challenge you to do more than you ever thought you could do.

We all know our Academy was founded in 1917 as the American Dietetic Association. It was created by a group of visionary women. And since then, we have grown to become the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the world.

Dietetics is a profession borne out of national emergency – the need to conserve food and feed our troops during World War I. Our association was founded by brave and bold women who at the time didn't even have the right to vote – but they had the right idea about the importance of nutrition to the success and survival of our military and our country’s citizens.

A very exciting process is underway, planning for the celebration of our 100th anniversary in 2017 – and more importantly, we want to honor the work of our founding members by building a bold vision for the Academy's next 100 years.

We have been doing some preliminary work on what this vision might be. Of course, we will reach out to all of you and get your thoughts because without you there is no vision.

As we look to 2017 and beyond, I am so happy to report some amazingly good news to you. Membership in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reached the highest level in the Academy's 97-year history this year – representing our ninth consecutive year of membership growth. That is great. The Academy's official year-end membership as of April 30 was 75,609, an increase of 542 members from the previous year.

As our profession grows, your Academy Board of Directors is working on ways to have more internship opportunities, including having a sufficient number of preceptors. I hope each of you will become a preceptor. My life has been so enriched by every dietetic intern I have had the pleasure of introducing to my exciting research practice area.

Now, let me tell you about a special anniversary that is happening this year. It has been ten years since the Academy debuted our profession's go-to resource for clinical nutrition information, the Nutrition Care Manual. Those of us who have been in practice for a decade or more will remember the old "Manual of Clinical Dietetics." This three-ring binder weighed in at 8 pounds, covering 40 conditions in more than 770 pages.

In 2004, we created the Nutrition Care Manual – a web-based manual with nutrition information, resources and references for more than 90 conditions and topics. Since then, the NCM has seen two spin-off publications – the Pediatric and the Sports Nutrition Care Manuals – also based on the web. And in 2013, all three manuals were redesigned.

The NCM now covers more than 120 conditions and topics, within 2,800 pages. Do not try to print this out at home!

Health care delivery and payment are changing in the United States. Traditional fee-for-service payment systems are being replaced by bundled payments and value-based purchasing. Care is moving from a volume-driven system to one driven by value.

We, as RDNs, need to demonstrate – to insurance companies, health care systems and primary care practices – the value we bring to patient care, based on clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and cost savings. In navigating this complicated environment, the Academy offers us support and resources to get RDNs into new health care delivery systems.

The new world of health care reinforces the need for us to hone our business skills, be creative in our business models and be risk takers. We need to practice utilizing our full scope of practice to secure our place in health care delivery and payment models.

Many of our colleagues are doing just that, including affiliates in Pennsylvania, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio and Illinois. Congratulations to you and to individual members who are energetically taking actions that will result in RDNs being fully incorporated into the health care delivery and payment systems that the Affordable Care Act is creating.

With support from the international branch of Abbott Nutrition, the Academy is taking the lead in addressing malnutrition throughout the globe. Yesterday, right here in Atlanta, we hosted a day-long forum, bringing together experts representing more than a half-dozen countries.

The goal of the program, "Linking Nutrition Around the World," was to foster dialogue on solutions ranging from capacity building and training, nutrition interventions, and populations who are at greatest risk. As you may know, the Academy and Abbott are founding members. Other founding members are the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses and the Society of Hospital Medicine.

This interdisciplinary alliance represents more than 100,000 RDNs, nurses, hospitalists and other physicians from all 50 states — with a mission to transform patient care, raise awareness about the positive impact of proper nutrition on patients’ medical outcomes, and provide hospitals with tools and resources to advocate for effective nutrition practices in their organizations.

I hope and expect the outcome of this first-of-its kind forum will pave the way to shared solutions, enhanced communications and greater visibility for the role of nutrition in global health.

The Academy's website is our single most important and influential piece of communication. It is where members, prospective members, consumers, the media, stakeholders, health professionals and others turn first to learn more about our members, our organization and our products and services.

Today, I am very proud to give you an exclusive look at your new website Our online changes are big, important, valuable, and – I hope – inspirational to you in accessing the resources you need to advance and excel as pros.

The new offers you the tools you need to stay at the forefront of dietetic research, policy initiatives, career trends and leadership opportunities. The Professional Community will connect members to the Academy's social media pages, with links at the bottom of every page of the website and news feeds from your Academy Groups featured on your member homepage. The goal is to keep us up-to-date with all the information we need in one central location. will continue as the Academy's consumer education destination, filled with robust information that demonstrates RDNs are the trusted source of food and nutrition information. The consumer site focuses on meeting the Academy’s vision: optimizing health through food and nutrition, while focuses on our mission: empowering members to be the food and nutrition leaders.

Both our public and member websites will be optimized for mobile devices, including quick navigation, social media and a user-friendly design. Here at FNCE, you are getting an exclusive look at the sites.

Please log on to and take it for a test ride. Let us know what you think. We want to hear from you. Your feedback will help us fine tune the websites.


You members are the greatest asset of the Academy – all of you – the nutrition and dietetics professionals who make a difference and make us proud every day – through the work you do that improves the quality of life for so many people.

Thank you very much.


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