Combating Misinformation in the Media: The Dietitians New Zealand Approach
  • While New Zealand may well be at the bottom of the earth, it has not been immune to the sensationalist claims and misleading reports made by the media in the field of nutrition. However, despite being the leading nutrition experts, dietitians have previously had very little visibility in the New Zealand media. In an effort to help combat misinformation in the media and to raise the profile of dietitians in New Zealand, Dietitians New Zealand (DNZ) established a Media Special Interest Group (SIG) in March 2015. The core objectives of the Media SIG are to:

    • Generate open communication between Dietitians New Zealand and the New Zealand media, highlighting the dedication of New Zealand dietitians whilst promoting a positive image of its membership, sector and services.

    • Raise the profile of dietitians as being leading experts who draw from an evidence base, translating the science into meaningful recommendations for the public.

    • Actively combat misinformation regarding nutrition and dietetics matters in a timely, efficient and accurate manner.

    The Media SIG membership is made up of DNZ members from around New Zealand, who either have an interest in, or are currently actively working with the media – whether it be through traditional media channels (such as print, TV or radio) or via social media. A small number of Media SIG members who have extensive media experience are also key media contacts who are able to speak with media should any queries come via DNZ. 
    To date, there has been a significant increase in the number of dietitians in the New Zealand media with more than 100 appearances across print, radio and television since the establishment of the Media SIG. Numerous topics have been commented on including food trends, diabetes, obesity, sodium, trans fat, sugar, Isagenix, fad diets, coconut oil and orthorexia.  Additionally, extensive local and national media coverage was gained for the 2015 DNZ National Meeting and a number of DNZ media releases have been issued to further raise the profile of dietitians as being the leading nutrition experts in New Zealand. To counter misinformation in the media, the Media SIG has compiled a number of submissions to television broadcasters to lodge complaints about inaccurate and misleading content in a number of national television programs.
    Acknowledging social media continues to be a driving force in the media world, the Media SIG has also developed a DNZ social media policy to help support its members in navigating and utilizing this growing information sharing medium.  With permission from Dietitians Association of Australia, their document Dialing into the dialing age: Guidance on social media for DAA members was adapted by Media SIG working group members to become the Social Media and the Dietetic Profession: A guide to online professionalism for members of Dietitians New Zealand. We are grateful to the DAA for allowing use of the document for guidance.
    To further promote the work and evidence-based knowledge that dietitians have, the DNZ website now includes a ‘Blogs by Dietitians’ page, with links to members’ blogs that can be accessed by the public. Furthermore, a formal DNZ media policy and strategy document has now been developed which helps to provide guidance and direction for DNZ media engagement.
    To promote our inaugural New Zealand Dietitians Day, marked on March 9 2016, DNZ with the support of the Media SIG ran a social media campaign, sharing top nutrition tips from New Zealand dietitians. These were distributed as images and short videos, generating significant coverage under the hashtag #DietitiansDayNZ.


    While we still have a long way to go in consistently having accurate nutrition messages disseminated in the media, we will continue to lead the charge in helping to not only reduce public confusion, but to also raise the profile of dietitians in New Zealand.
    Angela Berrill – Inaugural Media SIG convener (2015 – 2016) and current Media SIG secretary (2016)
    Fiona Greig – current Media SIG Convener (2016) and Media SIG Working Group member (2015)
    Caroline Worth – Media SIG Working Group member (2015 – present)