Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

Sarah Heiss


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Cooperative Extension System are organizations that serve the public and agricultural communities, respectively. Within these broad organizations are two groups of food systems professionals, registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) and Extension agents, who are utilizing communication as a critical point of access for health-related issues. Both groups of professionals negotiate organizational structure in order to construct their own health knowledge and, subsequently, communicate accurate information to their constituents. Understanding the ways that these professionals navigate their roles as health communicators are important for contributing to public discourse about how health knowledge is created and disseminated.

Specifically, for the first article, I conducted semi-structured interviews with RDNs to analyze the ways in which they navigate both commercial and health messaging from industry groups at their largest organizational meeting. Industry affiliations have historically been a controversial aspect of Academy operations, yet little research has explored RDNs unique experiences with industry. Findings revealed RDNs have varied interpretations of industry messages and are utilizing strategies to negotiate interactions with industry. The spectrum of RDN interpretation suggests that formal dietetic training should address media literacy strategies in order to help RDNs navigate a complex message landscape.

For the second article, through national focus groups with Extension professionals, I sought to understand how Extension is responding to healthcare reform changes and how this has translated into programming for their constituents. Extension participants reported a lack of available resources to improve their own health insurance knowledge, which has impacted their abilities to serve their constituents effectively. Findings emphasized a need for both collaborations both within Extension and across other agencies in order to improve health insurance access for agricultural communities.

By researching these two organizations, I hope to contribute to new understandings about how professionals navigate and communicate knowledge related to public health. Both articles have practical implications for each group, and they also offer examples of opportunities to utilize leverage points for structural change within the food system.



Number of Pages

115 p.