Earlier this month at the annual convention of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly the American Dietetic Association), more than 10,000 food and nutrition professionals gathered to learn about the latest in nutrition science and healthy food product trends. But from the looks of the sponsors of the event, one wonders whether the AND really is “committed to improving the nation’s health.” With Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey’s and Mars among its sponsors, can the AND be serious about addressing the nation’s struggle with obesity and diet-related diseases? Would it dare bite the hands that feed it?
A recent online survey of registered dietitians found that a solid majority of the 2,968 survey participants are not comfortable with the AND’s relationship with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Mars, Incorporated. 97 percent of participants believe that the AND should verify that the sponsor’s corporate mission is in line with the Academy’s, and 80 percent believe that sponsorship implies endorsement, according to a blogger familiar with the survey. The authors of the survey — AND members themselves — conclude that “the Academy should be more selective as to which corporations should be allowed to sponsor the association.”
There’s no question that sponsorships by junk food companies make the Academy less credible as a source of unbiased advice and expertise on what to eat. “It is completely understandable why food and beverage companies would want to buy silence from health professionals,” writes Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “It is much less understandable why health organizations would risk their credibility to accept such funding.”
Losing credibility is one thing. Worse is that the AND becomes complicit in the food industry’s schemes to continue selling as much junk food, soda and other sugary beverages as possible to an American population with expanding waistlines and growing rates of diet-related disease.
Fooducate founder and blogger Hemi Weingarten writes, “The AND should be more supportive of public policy regulations for reducing the consumption of soft drinks, but it does not initiate any such programs, nor does it endorse measures enacted by others.”
On his blog, Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, argues that the AND and two respected medical associations “have been bought off… the receipt of large amounts of money has caused them to look the other way.” As a result, they “are supporting companies that oppose virtually every state-specific public health policy related to improvement of school nutrition, reduction of junk food and soda consumption, and environmental health and safety.”
One commenter on Fooducate wrote, “This is just one reason why I am a certified holistic health coach and NOT an RD. I don’t need a corporate sponsor. I promote organic and real food. Why would I have to walk the halls of the AND convention looking for NEW healthy food? All the healthy food we need already grows naturally. It does not come from a factory!”
Agreed. Not to say that individual registered dietitians don’t also know and advise people of the benefits of eating whole, fresh and organic foods, as many of them do. But the Academy to which thousands of them belong has made some questionable choices in sponsorships, which undermine its authority as a leader in diet and nutrition.
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