Holistic Primary Care honors the fruitful life, and laments the untimely death, of Michael A. Stroka, co-founder and CEO of the American Nutrition Association (ANA).
A tireless advocate for the principle of Food-as-Medicine, Stroka accomplished much in his 53 years.
With combined JD and MBA degrees from the University of Virginia, Michael began his career as a project leader for Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a strategic management firm that helps companies worldwide solve major business challenges. The job took him all over the US, and many parts of Asia.
A business trip to Indonesia awakened him to the profound impact of nutrition and holistic medicine. Something he ate from a street vendor there led to severe food poisoning, and later to chronic fatigue and extreme weakness. His health deteriorated to the point that he had to leave BCG, and the intense but exciting work he enjoyed.
In his quest to recover, Stroka quickly ran into the limitations of conventional medicine. “I saw every kind of doctor in the medical system. No one could bring me back to health,” he said in an interview posted on the UVA/Darden School of Business website.
“Michael was not only an incredible ally…but also a personal friend to many of us. His passion, dedication, and intellect touched the lives of so many in his professional and personal life.”–Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium
It was a nutritionist who focused intensively on his diet that ultimately turned the situation around. Soon after making major dietary changes, he began to feel better than he ever had. This direct experience sparked an intense interest to learn more about nutrition, and ultimately to make a career change. He went back to school and became a Certified Nutrition Specialist.
A Natural Bridge-Builder
It wasn’t long until he saw that despite its potential to transform peoples’ lives, nutrition science remained in the margins of American healthcare. Practice guidelines give lip-service to the importance of “healthy lifestyle,” but the systems put little attention or money toward nutrition in practice.
“Conventional medicine is amazing for acute conditions, but the vast majority of the problems we have are chronic conditions for which nutrition is crucial. The science shows nutrition is the most powerful lever for our health, but health care attention to it is miniscule,” Stroka said.
Part of the problem, he soon realized, is that the nutrition field was fragmented, with a dizzying number of credentials, food philosophies, and “tribes” competing for credibility and for practice opportunities.
In this muddled situation, Stroka recognized an opportunity to apply the strategic thinking and business acumen he’d honed during his years as a consultant.
With several other like-minded nutrition professionals, he established the ANA which brought together five previously separate organizations—the American College of Nutrition, Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, Accreditation Council for Nutrition Professional Education, Center for Nutrition Advocacy, and the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association—under a single banner, and with a unified vision.
ANA promotes the science and practice of personalized nutrition through education, certification, and public policy advocacy. With a staff of 150, and thousands of members, ANA brought coherence to a previously chaotic field. Among Stroka’s many goals was to harmonize and standardize the credentialling criteria for non-RD nutrition professionals, and to ensure that they had a place in healthcare at large.
To say he was beloved by his colleagues and coworkers is an understatement.
“Michael was an extraordinary person, radiating love and peace to all. It was Michael’s visionary leadership that led to the American Nutrition Association coming to fruition,” writes Joye Blount, Chair of the ANA’s Board of Directors.
In their public statement, the board members of the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC) said: “Michael was not only an incredible ally of IHPC, but also a personal friend to many of us. His passion, dedication, and intellect touched the lives of so many in his professional and personal life.”
A natural bridge-builder, Michael was an active participant in several holistic and functional medicine organizations. I would often see him at conferences, and I was consistently impressed with the energy he brought to his work, the clarity of his vision for moving nutrition to healthcare’s center stage, and the practical steps he and his ANA colleagues were taking to make that vision a reality.
His boundless enthusiasm for nutrition was only exceeded by his love for his family. Michael was a devoted husband to his wife, Nancy, and a caring, engaged father to their four children: William, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Edward. He enjoyed putting on magic shows and sharing music with his kids, and spending time in nature. He also maintained close ties with his seven siblings.
Though fully engaged in the rough-and-tumble of life, Michael was also a deeply reflective and spiritual man, practicing meditation daily and working with teachings that ranged from the Advaita Vedanta to the Carmelite contemplations of Sister Bernadette Roberts.
Directly, and indirectly through his work, Michael Stroka positively affected many, many people. May his family and friends be comforted by his memory, and consoled in knowing that his vision and his work will carry on far into the future.
Members of Michael’s family have set up a GoFundMe campaign to support his wife and children. Please consider making a donation.