Countering nutrition-related “fake news” fuels student’s commitment to research

With questionable nutrition claims and too-good-to-be-true diet advice all over the internet, consumers often have little idea what to believe.

Rianna Uddin wants her generation to put the nonsense and falsehoods to rest.

“Registered dietitians and nutritionists need to have more of a voice, and we need to be vocal about our knowledge,” says Uddin, a student who in 2019 earned a bachelor’s from the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and now seeks a master’s. With plenty of folks posing online as health and wellness coaches without the benefit of real training, she adds, “they don’t even know if they’re doing harm.”

So what’s a passionate young person to do in the face of widespread confusion about how and what to eat?

Research, says Uddin, who fast-tracked into that arena by winning the Stempel Research Scholarship. The award opened up to her a new world of scientific investigation.

Uddin chose to work on an existing project that examines college students’ snacking habits—the use of a phone app to track food consumption captured the avowed techie’s imagination—and she has since introduced a component that focuses on disordered eating. Looking ahead, her concerns about the public’s lack of solid nutrition information have pushed her to pursue credentials as a registered dietitian and perhaps even a Ph.D.

Fitting in research between coursework and a part-time job as a compounding-pharmacy technician, Uddin still finds time to maintain a food blog. Upon one day securing a position as a clinical dietitian, she will continue to use her online presence to share evidence-based findings and encourage the public to seek information from reliable sources.

Uddin’s conviction that proper nutrition is critical to wellbeing stems from the experience of watching her own baby sister struggle years ago with painful juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Uddin recalls that rounds of doctor visits and medications—none of which appreciably improved the youngster’s heath—finally ended when a therapist suggested dietary changes that included restricting inflammatory foods. The child’s turnaround lifted an emotional burden from the entire family–and led Uddin to embrace a future in nutrition science.

“She went through the wringer,” Uddin says of her sibling’s debilitating disease. “Considering [the role of] nutrition in a situation like that, especially when you’ve exhausted all other options, it’s very powerful.”