Today’s statement of concern comes from Elizabeth Lee, MS, RD (Twitter handle: @HEALingFoodie):
“When I was still in my graduate nutrition program, I remember many of my classmates and professors mentioning the free learning opportunities (for continuing education credits) hosted by food companies.
At the time, I was appreciative of these talks because they were free (friendly to the student budget) and I felt like I was gaining knowledge that I wasn’t getting in my classes. But, over the years, after reading and talking to other RDs about the irresponsible actions of some food companies, I realized not everything presented in these webinars and sponsored conference sessions was accurate and unbiased information. It seemed that “science-based” was more a case of “company-approved-science based”.
The most recent and memorable instance was at last year’s AND conference, FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo). I attended a presentation on allergies and intolerances, and was shocked at the dairy recommendations made by the session panelists.
The panelists outright advocated for dairy consumption for individuals with lactose intolerance, since, they said, dairy was such a good source of many nutrients. These recommendations didn’t seem based on sound dietetic research. At first, I could not understand why these suggestions were being made. And, then, it all made sense. The session was sponsored by the Dairy Council. Their goal is to promote dairy consumption, not steer individuals with lactose intolerance to a healthful diet that can be dairy-free. Information like this shouldn’t have been shared at a professional meeting, especially one of this caliber. Many RDs present at this session were just as concerned as I was.
This incidence gave me new perspective on the consequences that occur when AND fraternizes with the food industry. While I understand the importance of acquiring financial support, I cannot agree with receiving such support if it means undermining the reputation and credibility of the organization, its members, and the expertise that the group possesses.
In a handful of encounters with clients and patients, my recommendations were questioned because of the ties AND has with companies that are perpetuating the nation’s health decline. Since the primary function of RDs is to encourage Americans to improve their health, it’s counterproductive to have corporate influence cripple that very effort.
Moreover, the prominent presence of large food companies at FNCE conveys a message to the public and its members that AND is supportive of all foods marketed by the companies. Partnerships and sponsorships imply passive endorsement, so I do not understand the argument from some of my colleagues that, even though AND takes money from Coca-Cola, that does not equal endorsement.
Sure, McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal has a different nutrition profile from the chain’s Chicken McNuggets. And, yes, Coca-Cola’s Dasani water is not the same as soda or Vitamin Water, but we need to take a hard look at these companies’ generals actions and behaviors, not just the sliver of their product portfolios that are “not as bad” as everything else they offer. Can we truly say these companies are in line with the Academy’s mission?
I want to continue practicing dietetics without having to constantly defend my knowledge and profession. By the growing support of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, I know I’m not the only one.”