Today’s statement of concern comes from Nancy Jacobson MS, RD, CDE (Twitter handle: @morecarrotsplz)
When I first came across Michele Simon’s report (And Now a Word From Our Sponsors, Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?) about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ ties to Big Food (via a tweet of hers), I made an unfortunate response of re-acting quickly and tweeting back emotionally vs. logically. The outcome – I appeared, and consequently, felt like a fool. I am still working on this life lesson and probably will always be…breathe first, think, then act. So, here is my story (and if you want to cut to the chase, just read the last 3 paragraphs).
Initially, I was aghast at Ms. Simon’s unflattering report of AND and felt that Ms. Simon, JD, MPH; Marion Nestle, PhD; and Andy Bellatti, MS,RD appeared to have worked in tandem to target AND, and for me, “I felt”, in turn discredited RDs in general.
You see, I am passionate about the field of dietetics.
I have worked very hard in the state of California to help Northern California Kaiser Dietitians become unionized. I have spent 100’s of hours of my free time in this endeavor as did many other excellent RDs on the bargaining team back in 2001/2002. Those of us in bargaining back then, learned that not only would Kaiser N. California RDs benefit from improved working conditions, benefits and pay – but, that unionization of N. California KP RDs would overflow to other RD professionals in N. California and possibly beyond.
While not as active as I used to be, I still feel strongly about the profession of Dietetics. And in part, this may also be because it is largely a female dominated field.
This is another area where it gets personal for me. I grew up in an all-female household with a working Mother (a newspaper editor) who was the sole support of my family. The economic effects of sexism (low pay, non-existent benefits, nor further employment opportunities) that were directed to her – were filtered to me.
My life lesson is, I think that it is paramount that females support females. And today, how unfortunate that women are still having to deal with injustice and inequities because of their gender versus their abilities.
The field of nutrition is vast and everyone wants a piece of the pie or maybe I should say kale quiche to be nutritionally PC. Registered Dietitians are nutrition experts, and are top in the field for being “The Nutrition Expert”. We have countless hours of education and applicable work experience – all based on science. And the majority of RDs improve as they continue their practice and continue to learn.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is evolving and (slowly) making changes for the better. The publication of the “Food & Nutrition Magazine” is a great example of our group becoming more current and something I believe ALL AND members are proud of!
What is not working for many RDs and for members of the public looking at our group is the sponsorship from unhealthy food manufacturers for our conferences and such. I have talked with co-workers and peers about this issue, as I try to find my way of being in the business of promoting health while still being part of a larger group that because of business and economic realities may have to compromise (and in turn compromises me).
And I do understand AND’s stance: a RD’s intent is NOT to promote junk food, that the public will continue to purchase fast food and RDs can help steer them towards better selections, and that conferences are very expensive and sponsorship keeps prices affordable (and it most certainly does).
Yet, what to do…in California, on the state level, I brought up the problem of sponsorship to the CDA leadership and we were able to get some healthier sponsors for the CDA annual meeting held in April, 2013 (sponsors also need to have liability insurance to be qualified and considered). And I believe, that this is one road available to AND – to phase out dependence of unhealthy food manufacturers and increase sponsorship of healthier ones.
I think at some point that it will have to be AND that needs to adapt – especially as more young people enter the RD profession; this issue is going to be a growing concern and these energies of sponsorship could be better directed. Bottom line – this is a problem that it is dividing our group, and yet how lucky and lucrative it is for other nutrition groups and professionals which are no doubt taking advantage of our conundrum. Let’s get our act together, start working as a unit, and get on with the business of health. As I have learned from unionizing, for both sides to come together – negotiations would be a start.”
DIETITIANS FOR PROFESSIONAL INTEGRITY ADDS: Thank you, Nancy. We are happy to hear that you understand that Michele Simon’s report and this group are not about attacking a profession, but rather advocating for a better way to do things which stems from the belief that a better alternative does exist. When you care about something, you want to see it at its best.
A dialogue would certainly be a start, and it is unfortunate that, by and large, the Academy has dismissed these concerns, opting instead to dig their heels and not only make false claims (i.e.: “all members support these sponsorships”) but also continue to ignore those of us who make valid points as to why the current sponsors are inappropriate for a nutrition organization.
As far as sponsorships and costs, keep in mind that we are not against *all* sponsorship (we don’t think ethical and socially responsible sponsorship is a pipe dream). Also, the current Academy sponsors account for 7% of the Academy’s total budget. The American Public Health Association (which operates well without Big Food sponsors) and the American College of Nutrition (which did away with sponsorships from for-profit companies back in 2011, and still manages to put together an annual conference and not charge outrageous dues to its members) are proof that an organization can operate without taking money from the likes of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.