Today’s statement of concern comes from Mark McGill, RD (Twitter handle: @MarkJMcGill):
“I have several food products on display in my office. Companies didn’t pay for me to show them and I don’t necessarily endorse the specific brands – they are simply examples of foods used for teaching purposes. However, many of my clients perceive that I automatically recommend the brands that sit on my shelf. “I took this back and got the one you have” and “I like brand Y; is it as good as brand X that you have up there?” are comments I hear on a fairly regular basis.
I don’t blame my clients for thinking this way for one second. I am a professional and they have put their trust in what I have to teach them. Whether I recommend a product or not is not the issue but rather that my clients perceive that I do.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and Dietitians of Canada (DC) receive money from corporations and in turn, prominently display their logos and products at various professional functions, in print and online. Having people see that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo or the Dairy Farmers of Canada sponsor a particular educational session or is a partner with AND or DC equates to an endorsement as far as the public is concerned – it’s no different than the products in my office.
This damages our credibility as health promoters and makes DC’s/AND’s mission of supporting ethical, evidence-based best practice in dietetics and value of credibility that relies on information from solid, scientific evidence and direct experience to support decision-making not worth the paper it is printed on. We cannot and will not be taken seriously until we rid ourselves of these sponsors.
“Mars Bars are unhealthy and oh, by the way, one of our professional organizations’ sponsors is Mars Co!” How ludicrous does that statement sound? Yet it is true. Another example is the sponsored sessions at the Dietitians of Canada National Conference. One, on artificial sweeteners is sponsored by PepsiCo. To disseminate to clients anything information that paints them in a positive light would need to also have an asterisk whereby I inform them that the talk was sponsored by a company that uses artificial sweeteners in their products. What are the odds that anyone who is even somewhat intelligent would take what I have to say seriously knowing that?
All of this makes me very frustrated. And I’m not alone. From the great Twitter talk on AND sponsorship to the numerous blog posts, statements of concern and face-to-face chats, both RDs and non-RDs alike are fed-up and are taking action by speaking out. I’m going one step further and will not be renewing neither my AND or DC membership out of protest. I would only rejoin if they ended their partnerships with companies whose only job it is to sell junk to consumers (e.g. McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Mars) as it is more than clear that they influence the voice of the profession.
I also want to publicly call on Dietitians of Canada to set an example and end their corporate Nutrition Month ties. As an organization of 6100 well-educated and bright dietitians, I am certain that we can run nutrition month without any corporate backing. If funding is a concern, organizing fundraising initiatives via the many DC networks can be adopted. I would be more than happy to call myself a DC member if and when this occurs.
If this issue concerns you, whether you are a member of AND or DC, do not sit idly by – speak up any way you can so that both organizations take notice and have little choice but to make positive changes.”