Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

Sarah N. Heiss


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the leading professional organization for registered dietitians (RDs)--globally--with over 75,000 members. Professional organizations are often overlooked in communication scholarship. However, the Academy offers a rich setting for researching occupational identities, health activism, and neoliberalism.

I used semi-structured interviews to explore how taken-for-granted discourses, power relationships, and unquestioned norms are challenged, reinforced, and (re)constructed within the Academy. Specifically, this study analyzed two challenges to the Academy and the dietetics profession: claims to professional expertise and a debate surrounding the Academy's corporate sponsorship. My findings suggest that the profession, which happens to be predominantly female, is struggling with issues of marginalization. RDs described their expertise through a rhetorical turf war--in which they defined themselves against nutritionists--to help elevate their profession. Further, I found that the Academy has a sub-group of health activists that are unified through their holistic approach to nutrition. These health activists attempted to address complaints about the Academy's corporate sponsorship program but lacked a unified vision for their efforts.

By researching the Academy, I hope to contribute new understandings about how professional organizations, discourses of expertise, and corporate sponsorship contribute and influence the public's understandings of health and nutrition. While my results have practical and theoretical implications for RDs and the Academy, they also have broader implications for understanding power relationships and hidden discourses within our complex, dynamic food system.



Number of Pages

141 p.

Included in

Communication Commons