Michele Simon, president of Eat, Drink, Politics, an industry watchdog consulting group, has just published an exposé of the close financial relationships between food and beverage companies and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly the American Dietetic Association).
Her hard-hitting report, And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food? provides ample evidence that partnerships and alliances with Big Food make it impossible for AND members to convey clear and accurate messages about nutrition and health.
When she talks about nutrition professionals, she doesn’t mean me. I have a PhD (in molecular biology, although long lapsed) and a master’s in Public Health Nutrition. She means AND members. AND represents more than 70,000 individuals who mostly hold credentials as Registered Dietitians (RDs).
To qualify, they had to complete a bachelor’s degree that included a specified set of courses and a 6-month clinical internship. I once tried to get credentialed as an RD after I completed a qualifying internship but I had never had a practical course in food service management. That lack was a deal breaker.
Never mind. Here’s what Simon’s report is about:
- AND collected $1.85 million in sponsorship funds in 2011, a relatively small percentage of its $34 million income.
- Companies such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nestlé, and PepsiCo offer approved continuing education courses to AND members.
- Two of the messages conveyed by one of Coca-Cola’s courses: sugar is not harmful to children, and federal nutrition standards for school meals are too restrictive.
- More than 20% of speakers at AND’s annual meeting have financial ties to Big Food companies, although most were not disclosed.
- A survey found 80% of members to believe that sponsorship implies an AND endorsement of the sponsor’s products.
- A majority of AND members believe that three current sponsors are unacceptable: Coca-Cola, Mars, and PepsiCo.