Today’s statement of concern comes from Judy Converse, MPH, RD:
RDs and Corporate Influence
“The catch phrase tossed around often now in medical circles is “evidence based”. That’s supposed to signal a consciousness for information that is produced by our hallowed scientific method, and reviewed by a panel of impartial experts.
Dietitians love this phrase too, and have co-opted it into their lexicon. They like to be The Experts In Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly ADA) wants everyone to know that. But are they shooting themselves in the food pyramid with corporate influence? I mean, plate? Or whatever it is now?
I became a registered dietitian in 1989. I also have graduate and undergraduate nutrition degrees, like many RDs. As soon as my state had licensure, I became licensed. And early on, I got involved in my state dietetic association (Hawaii at the time) and became public relations chairperson. I was passionate about nutrition and eager to spread my wings.
One of the first tasks I was asked to complete in that role was to go on local news and defend McDonald’s.
It went like this: McDonald’s of Hawaii donated handsomely to the Hawaii Dietetic Association. Then one day in 1993 a chatty newscaster made an off-hand remark about McDonald’s food that McDonald’s of Hawaii did not like. They called the Hawaii Dietetic Association to fix it. And the HDA board called me. I was young and eager to get along with all these ladies who had just brought me onto the board.
Just last week, I found the 20-year-old videotape and ‘cringeworthy’ is the best word you could use to describe it. Of course, my point of view has since changed considerably (you won’t see me defending McDonald’s in any way, shape, or form).
But, what that videotape makes clear is that money talks. AND has grand intentions. But when there is money involved, we don’t think clearly, and our credibility tanks. I certainly didn’t get paid for this stint, but the pressure to conform was strong. Not long after this, I quit the board, and not long after that, I dropped my AND membership completely – because of what struck me as undue corporate influence on the journal, on the AND’s position statements, and on how this organization presented its own profession to the public
Since 1993, not much has changed. Attend any FNCE (AND’s annual conference) and you will find a lot of money floating around from ConAgra, Coca Cola, and any number of big food processors, not to mention companies engaging in questionable marketing for foods to children. With money like this, the evidence base erodes. My experience was that my professional organization did not robustly support science and practice beyond that corporate box – and that’s no basis for sound evidence.
AND would be a more credible organization with less top-heavy, procedural bureaucracy and more outreach into the real food policy issues affecting Americans today, including the environmental and health impacts of mega-agriculture, the true healing power of whole foods, and effective use of supplements and herbs. Their aversion for controversy – in a profession with no shortage of controversial topics – appears to be all about placating their sponsors.”