Today’s statement of concern comes from Denise Garbinski, MBA, RD:
“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)’s corporate sponsorship issue comes down to decades of money buying undue power and influence. It is the elephant in the room that everyone, especially the discerning public, sees but our profession’s national representative organization refuses to address.
This clearly unethical power and influence may have been a boon for AND and its corporate sponsors at one time – easy money for a non-profit whose members are the opposite of rich on the whole and implied RD endorsement of a corporation’s products – but it has devastated public health and public trust in dietitians, who are supposed to be the ‘food and nutrition experts’.
I don’t blame corporations, per se, for maximizing shareholder wealth by leveraging AND’s reckless willingness to sell influence. No, the fault lies squarely with AND and the leadership that propagated these relationships while simultaneously dismissing the concerns of its own members for decades. Why change the policies that have tarnished your organization’s name when you can just change your name? And why not try to mask those sponsorship-colluded Continuing Education Units (CEUs) as ‘science’ and ‘evidence-based’ education by calling your organization an Academy? Clearly AND’s public relations-motivated name change from the American Dietetic Association to ‘The Academy’ hasn’t fixed anything.
AND was founded by dietitians, and many dietitians work in its Chicago headquarters. One would think those same dietitians would focus on the age old problem of notoriously low pay for those of us in the dietetic profession. And yet, AND has yet to successfully advocate for the higher salaries made by nurses and other allied healthcare professionals in traditional clinical, food service and public health roles. Consequently, RDs have had no choice but to work in ‘industry’ to make a decent wage. That’s how the slippery slope of power and influence was paved.
Corporations representing big food, fast food, pharma and agribusiness – all profit-driven at the expense of public health – employ RDs and need the alliance with AND to improve their public image and to maximize sales through RD endorsement. AND maintains that sponsorship does not equal endorsement but the public doesn’t see it that way.
Public perception is everything, as corporations know all too well. Corporate RDs are encouraged by their employers to serve as Academy leaders, and despite what those RDs may admit, they are defacto expected to promote the interests of the companies that employ them. Therein lies the conflict of interest – corporate RDs working with AND want to keep the Academy’s corporate sponsorship policy status quo, maintaining they are happy with the corporate promotions at FNCE, advertisements to RDs and corporate-sponsored CPE opportunities. They insist they are not influenced by sponsors but the public perception damage continues, corrupting their own credibility while undermining the credibility of our dietetic profession as a whole.
How can AND credibly say they care about the nation’s health when they are financially incentivized to serve corporate interests; the same corporate interests the actively lobby against public health? AND and RDs will never have the credibility as the nation’s experts in food and nutrition until they removes their hands from Big Food corporate pockets and win back the public’s respect.
Public shaming of the Academy over the past year with the Kraft Singles debacle (Hyperlink:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/
Drastic measures must now be taken to achieve a major paradigm shift in the AND starting with its members. The problem is that too many RDs blindly trust that their professional organization knows what best for their profession. Or they don’t realize (or worse, don’t care) that their professional organization has destroyed their professional credibility enough to rise up and activate.
Other RDs are working to change the organization from the inside within their Dietetic Practice Groups (DPGs) – and begrudgingly write a check each year to keep up their AND memberships because the Academy holds them hostage in mandating annual membership in order to remain a member of the DPG’s.
And still others, like myself, have left the organization in protest, and in doing so have found other RD organizations outside AND and the DPG’s to connect with like-minded nutrition professionals, get CEUs, etc. We even have a great DFPI toolkit for RD’s who are non-AND members!
I bet AND would notice if major numbers of members declined to renew their memberships as a national ‘occupy AND’ boycott against the current corporate sponsorship program. For years, many RDs have written letters, reached out to leadership, and advocated for a change, with minimal results. Advocacy remains important, but let’s also start a dialogue about what it would take for each of us to quit our AND membership in support of a bold movement and a more honorable representation of our hard-earned credential.”