Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?January 24th, 2013
Public health attorney and author Michele Simon asks: Are America’s nutrition professionals in the pocket of Big Food? While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 74,000-member trade group partners with the likes of Coke and Hershey’s, the nation’s health continues to suffer from poor diet.
The largest trade group of nutrition professionals—the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—has a serious credibility problem. In a damning report released today, industry watchdog Eat Drink Politics examines the various forms of corporate sponsorship by Big Food that are undermining the integrity of those professionals most responsible for educating Americans about healthy eating.
The report details, for example, how registered dietitians can earn continuing education units from Coca-Cola, in which they learn that sugar is not a problem for children and how Nestlé, the world’s largest food company can pay $50,000 to host a two-hour “nutrition symposium” at the Academy’s annual meeting. Additional disturbing findings from the report include:
- Beginning in 2001, the Academy listed 10 food industry sponsors; the 2011 annual report lists 38, a more than three-fold increase;
- Companies on the Academy’s list of approved continuing education providers include Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and PepsiCo;
- At the 2012 annual meeting, 18 organizations – less than five percent of all exhibitors – captured 25 percent of the total exhibitor space. Only two out of the 18 represented whole, non-processed foods;
- The Corn Refiners Association (lobbyists for high fructose corn syrup) sponsored three “expo impact” sessions at the 2012 annual meeting;
- A majority of registered dietitians surveyed found three current Academy sponsors “unacceptable” (Coca-Cola, Mars, and PepsiCo);
- 80 percent of registered dietitians said sponsorship implies Academy endorsement of that company and their products;
- The Academy has not supported controversial nutrition policies that might upset corporate sponsors, such as limits on soft drink sizes, soda taxes, or GMO labels;
- Sponsors and their activities appear to violate the Academy’s own sponsorship guidelines.
Among the report’s recommendations are for the Academy to: 1) provide greater transparency on corporate funding sources; 2) gather input from all members on corporate sponsorship; 3) reject all corporate-sponsored education; and 4) provide better leadership on controversial nutrition policy issues. Registered dietitian and Academy member Andy Bellatti, who has long criticized his professional group’s conflicted corporate sponsorships said:
Michele Simon’s report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is thoroughly researched and expertly points out the different ways in which the nation’s leading nutrition organization harms its reputation, efficacy, and members by forming partnerships with food companies that care more about selling products than they do about improving the health of Americans. Anyone concerned about public health will realize that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is in dire need of systemic change if it hopes to take a leadership role and be taken seriously as the home base of the nation’s nutrition experts.