Advocating for Nutrition at 111th TN General Assembly

When Brian Carroll came for his interview at the University of Tennessee at Martin six years ago, he thought he’d be back on the road north after a nice interview where both parties realized a match was not on the menu. Instead, the nutritionist found he had a taste for the small town and the respectful students and said yes to the invitation to return.

Since then, he’s made a name for himself as not only a lecturer of dietetics at UTM but also as an officer within the Tennessee Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (TAND), a statewide organization representing food and nutrition experts. He was also named the 2016 Outstanding Dietetic Educator by the TAND.

Carroll holds both a Master of Science degree and a Bachelor of Science in food and nutrition from Southern Illinois University. In addition to his classroom duties, Carroll also oversees UT Martin’s dietetic internship program, which places 10 students in appropriate clinical settings across the state each year and prepares them to become registered dietitian-nutritionists. Registered dietitian-nutritionists provide food and nutrition advice, information and consultative care in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, research labs, public health clinics, health and wellness facilities, grocery stores, universities and grade schools.

As the president elect of TAND, he will lead the advocacy aspect of the work this year before assuming the president role next year. With the Tennessee General Assembly starting this week, his focus is turning to what steps need to be made “to promote optimal nutrition, health and well-being for all Tennesseans.”

Previous efforts have resulted in implementing a “breakfast after the bell” model that moves breakfast out of the school cafeteria served before school starts — making it more accessible and a part of the regular school day. Breakfast after the bell overcomes timing, convenience, and stigma barriers that get in the way of children participating in school breakfast.

Carroll says that potential topics for the 2019 session could address implications of the recently passed farm bill, treating pre-diabetes, addressing childhood obesity – or any number of other options. But aspects like costs of proposed solutions will need to be factored into any presentation to lawmakers.

Before all that, however, comes the introductions.

“The first step for us was getting to know our legislatures,” said Carroll of TAND’s previous advocacy efforts. “I stress that statewide with all our dieticians. We go once a year [to Nashville] and for the other 364 days I won’t have any contact. So, I push inviting representatives to lunch or to the work place.”

After the November elections, TAND’s newsletter underscored the importance of reaching out to newly elected and re-elected legislators stating, “Regardless of whether or not you support the person, or voted for them, they will be your voice in Nashville for the next 2-4 years and it’s always a good idea to get off on the right foot with them.”

Carroll says his interactions with local representatives have netted classroom presentations by the lawmakers, explaining the legislative process and showing students how to look up bills and laws. Following them on social media has also helped them to stay in touch.

As a result, TAND members become the experts they in turn know to call when issues affecting nutrition arise.

The “once a year” trip Carroll referenced is TAND Hill Day scheduled for Wednesday, February 27, at the capitol. TAND members are encouraged to participate in a day of interaction with legislators, advocating for items determined by members between now and the scheduled advocacy day.

For more information or share information about potential nutrition-oriented advocacy, contact Carroll at 731-881-7102 or by email at bcarro18@utm.edu.

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