Reflections on ASPEN’s Clinical Nutrition Week

I just returned from ASPEN’s Clinical Nutrition Week (CNW) in fabulous Las Vegas, NV. When I told friends and colleagues that I was going to CNW for the first time, I heard the same thing over and over from those who had attended CNW in the past. They all remarked that I would quickly notice how different CNW is when compared to ADA’s Food and Nutrition Conference & Exhibition (FNCE). They all seemed to imply that different in this case somehow meant better but when I pressed them for specifics, all I really heard was vague ideas about CNW being “scientific” and “just different.” I took all the comments in stride and figured I would soon see for myself and make my own judgments but to be honest, I really love FNCE and didn’t really see how much different a meeting could be. I have presented lectures at more than 400 scientific meetings and most meetings are essentially similar so I was eager to see what happened out in Vegas. And contrary to the philosophy of ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’, here are my observations.

Attendees: CNW had a much more diverse group of attendees than FNCE. I was surprised at the number of international attendees. I spoke to people from Brazil, Columbia, Japan, Sweden, Russia, Bahrain, Israel, Mexico, Canada, and about a dozen more places. These people didn’t happen to be vacationing in Las Vegas; they traveled great distances solely to attend the meeting. It was very interesting to see how different health care is in other countries and this aspect of the meeting really got me out of my USA-centric thinking. The next thing about the attendees was the number of males. While FNCE is almost an exclusively female event, this was at least 50-50 male-female. Perhaps there was even more than 50% males. At FNCE almost everyone is a dietitian but here there were plenty of physicians and pharmacists and researchers in addition to the dietitians. I did encounter far fewer nurses than I expected. And finally, at FNCE I notice a great number of students. While I did see some students here, it was mainly advanced level practitioners.

Lectures: There were many, many lectures to select from but my schedule only allowed me to attend five sessions. Of course, the sessions I attended were mainly about lean body mass, protein, and my other pet topics. The lecture content was generally more advanced than anything I have ever attended at FNCE. I even have to admit that several portions of the lectures involved topics that were over my head. This was technical medical research delivered directly from the people actually conducting the research. Many of the faculty were from countries other than the USA and a few had such strong accents that it compounded my problems in keeping up with the content but I tried. The lectures were all evidenced based and cutting edge.

Technology: CNW was using technology to the fullest and even allowed virtual participants. I am not exactly sure how this all worked out but in several lectures, the screens were full of questions from participants who were attending from their home or office in real time. There was also a CE Pavillion, places to check email, and a general sense of technology being embraced and utilized. While I think ADA and FNCE are beginning to catch up in the technological world, I got the feeling that ASPEN was a few years ahead.

Exhibit Hall: The exhibit hall at CNW was considerably smaller than the exhibition at FNCE. The FNCE exhibition is one of my favorite annual activities and I really look forward to it. This was a much more serious exhibit hall. I know many FNCE attendees make a meal out of the free samples in the exhibit hall; they could not do this here as no one had food samples. There were no overstuffed exhibit hall bags filled with the usual give aways but plenty of article reprints and textbooks for sale.

Schedule: The schedule was packed and a week long! When they say Clinical Nutrition WEEK, they mean a full week. FNCE has gotten shorter over the years but CNW is still the entire week. I was able to see everyone’s energy dwindling by week’s end and I felt badly for the late Thursday and Friday speakers. I wondered if everyone had had enough by then.

My conclusion is that they certainly are two different meetings, just as I was told. I am blessed that I was able to attend both this year because I had two different experiences. While CNW was more scientific, FNCE is more practical application. I am not sure one is better than the other; it depends on what type of information you need and want. I tend to lean towards practical application because I work with front line staff. But I certainly appreciate the cellular level science behind it all as well. All in all, I think I will renew my ASPEN membership after attending and broaden my horizons.

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