Michele Simon and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Corporate sponsors of AND

Corporate sponsors of AND

Childhood Obesity News is interested in a paper titled “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors,” whose subtitle is a pointed question: “Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?” Written by public health specialist Michele Simon, it takes a close look at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

Simon wonders about AND’s failure to speak up about such matters as proposed soda taxes, limiting soft drink sizes, the labeling of genetically modified foods, and other nutritional hot topics. Why might this be? Perhaps because of the multitude of food industry corporate sponsors — 25 of them listed in the 2013 annual report; 38 back in 2011.

The bottom line is, a group financed by the food industry has the exclusive right to deem someone a professional expert in, and advisor about, nutrition. That’s harsh. And it answers one of Simon’s questions: “What does the food industry gain from such partnerships?” Well, if you’re a Big Food sponsor of AND, you get an army of people who owe their professional existence to you. They can’t be credentialed as nutrition experts unless they give the right answers to the questions on your test. That creates quite an obligation.

As we know, Dr. Pretlow has written, not favorably, about infant formula. Sarah Eye, the certified performance technologist and critic of AND quoted in yesterday’s post, has also covered the topic and says this about the Similac brand of formula:

The main ingredient is corn syrup. And on top of this, they continue to add more sugar via 6 different formulations inside the ingredients, and top it all off with a ton of GMO soy and other harsh additives and preservatives. I’m not sure how they were able to conjure up this list of ingredients and say it’s the next best thing to breast milk.

Similac is made by Abbott Nutrition, one of AND’s corporate sponsors. These are the jokers who are educating nutritionists! Incredibly, AND’s list of approved continuing education providers includes Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and PepsiCo. Eye says:

Among the messages taught in Coca-Cola-sponsored continuing education courses are: sugar is not harmful to children; aspartame is completely safe, including for children over one year; and the Institute of Medicine is too restrictive in its school nutrition standards.

Continuing education for professionals is not the only area infiltrated by these companies.They also sponsor education sessions at AND’s yearly meeting. For instance, in 2012, the Corn Refiners Association (lobbyists for high fructose corn syrup) sponsored not one but three “expo impact” sessions at the annual confab.

As of last summer, they also claimed as sponsors the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the National Dairy Council, Kelloggs, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, the National Dairy Council, Aramark, Coca-Cola, Mars, Pepsico, Abbott Nutrition, Truvia, SoyJoy, and Unilever.

Michele Simon calls the internal contradiction a “disconnect” but there are stronger words that would fit. The disconnect (or whatever) undermines confidence in AND. (Was is a coincidence that a month after the publication of Simon’s report, a new group called Dieticians for Professional Integrity was formed?)

What a terrible and baffling paradox — or is it a conundrum? The very organization that christens nutritional and dietetic professionals is the worst threat to the profession’s reputation. Simon asks, “Does forming partnerships with the food industry compromise such a group’s credibility?” A lot of the evidence says “yes.” What makes it worse is that, although they don’t have an official mechanism through which to voice their objections, many registered dieticians do not care for the corporate sponsorship. A survey was taken, and Simon writes, “A majority of RDs surveyed found three current AND sponsors ‘unacceptable.’ (Coca-Cola, Mars, and PepsiCo.)”

One of her recommendations is to demand from the organization a degree of transparency that has not so far been evident. For instance, “Roughly 23 percent of annual meeting speakers had industry ties, although most of these conflicts were not disclosed in the program session description.”

Simon also urges that AND should institute and implement stronger and more meaningful sponsorship guidelines. But she also notes that “AND’s sponsors and their activities appear to violate AND’s own sponsorship guidelines,” so how much good would it do to pile on even more guidelines, which would probably be ignored in a similar manner?

The last quotation is from Sarah Eye: “Not one single voice of authority is calling B.S on the obvious conflicts of interest here.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors,” EatDrinkPolitics.com, January 2013
Source: “Second-Guessing the Dietician,” AustinPrimalFitness.com, 07/25/13
Image by Joki Gauthier for Oxfam 2012

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