XIVth international congress of dietetics (ICD), Chicago, 28-31 May 2004.
The XIVth ICD was hosted by the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada, and held in the wonderful city of Chicago. There was a surprising short-age of dietitians attending from the United States--this was explained by the fact that it was a holiday weekend in the US, and that US dietitians in general did not travel to many meetings. What an opportunity and a treat they missed out on! The ICD allows a delegate to discuss, to interact and to enjoy being with the dietetic family, and to contribute to developing a global understanding on relevant issues. The theme of the congress, as suits an international meeting, was 'Sharing global perspectives, building our common ground'. The sessions were conducted over three days and a morning, and included cooking demonstrations, trade exhibition, poster displays, workshops and oral presentations. The topic areas covered specific issues identified within an area of practice (such as food service, community nutrition and clinical practice), professional training and education, issues relevant to dietetic organisations, skills development workshops, and emerging issues with apparent relevance for nutritionists. Two themes which threaded through many of the sessions were obesity and food security, with a substantial number of sessions oriented towards practicing dietetics in the community. Although some results of research were presented, a more common form of presentation was to describe the experience and insights from the implementation of particular programs in regions or agencies. As always, the choice of which concurrent session to attend to maximise benefit presented great difficulty. It is beyond the scope of this report to summarise each session. However, the concurrent sessions that I found particularly worthwhile included one on how nutritionists work with substance abuse programs, another on how genomics is expected to change the way that dietitians work. The concurrent sessions on monitoring and surveillance, globalisation and trade policy were very high quality and well-received.
The keynote address on day one was delivered by Stephen Lewis, a Canadian diplomat and United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. His motivating presentation dealt with the major global health issue that is HIV/AIDS and the critical impact it has on national and family food security in many African countries. The differential mortality and morbidity rates decrease the capacity for food production, and will have a population influence for decades even if progress is made with disease control. A plenary presentation from Stanley Zlotkin provided a fascinating overview of the many critical steps in the development of an effective program to address a nutrition issue--in this case, the development of single serve sachets of 'Sprinkles' (to add to food) to address deficiency of iron and other micronutrients in high risk children.
The Kellogg Nutrition Symposium included a breakfast and display of cereals and food innovations from around the world. The extent to which similar food products such as breakfast cereal vary from country to country was extraordinary. A breakfast cereal available in Canada is called 'Vector'--to an epidemiologist, a vector is a mechanism or organism that carries and spreads disease. I mentioned this to the gentleman standing next to me, and he (as it turns out, a global senior manager of Kellogg) explained to me that 'vector' suggested strength, focus and direction, and was therefore thought by the company to be appropriate for a sports cereal. Talking to strangers can be so educational.
The range of presentation quality at the congress was broad--this is not unexpected at international congresses and is part of the experience. Many of the conference presentations were very good. There were some aspects of the congress that perhaps should have been managed better. The congress did not provide a printed book of abstracts (although some abstracts were available on the ICDA website at the time of writing--www.internationaldietetics.org), and the trade exhibit with poster presentation was open for only limited hours each day, and not at all on the final day. Food was not provided as part of the registration, resulting in most people leaving the venue during program breaks, and tea and coffee was provided on only one occasion. These are important issues--a function of conferences is to provide opportunity for the delegates to meet each other and to encourage professional connections. Poster presenters deserve an adequate opportunity to present their work, and delegates to view it; and similarly trade exhibitors and delegates should have a fair opportunity to interact. International conferences require a substantial outlay from delegates in time and money, and a printed record of proceedings should be available to share the benefit of the congress with others who are unable to attend. Happily, discussion with others suggests that these disappointments are not typical for ICD meetings.
The highlights of the congress for me were: unexpectedly meeting a US dietitian based in Malawi who had participated for many years in an Australian dietitians e-mail discussion group--it was like meeting up with a long-time friend; hearing the presentations of much admired workers such as Ron Labonte of Canada, and Winsome Parnell of New Zealand; and being invigorated by the tremendous enthusiasm, energy and passion of like-minded health professionals.
The next ICD in 2008 will be in Yokohama, Japan--this is sure to be a very special dietetic experience and I encourage people to make the commitment now to attend. You will not regret it. In 2012, we will welcome dietitians to Sydney for what may be the best ICD in history.
Associate Professor, Nutrition and Dietetics
Department of Medicine
Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne