Today’s statement of concern comes from Amy Hager, MS, RD (Twitter handle: @beehappylife):
“After almost 10 years of being a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, last year was the first instance where I’ve intentionally decided not to align myself with the Academy and support its mission with my membership. I have a few concerns about the direction the Academy is headed and with the image it conveys as a professional organization.
My opinions are largely influenced by the annual Food and Nutrition Conference, which I’ve attended as a student, a nutrition professional and as a contributor of research. The energy of a national conference for nutrition professionals is empowering and motivating. However, the educational and career development aspects of the conference tend to get overshadowed by the pomp and circumstance of the food industry present on the Expo floor.
What I see is a model too similar to the pharmaceutical industry: countless free samples, coupons and branded educational materials stuffed into the bags of attendees (and eventually into the mailboxes and email inboxes of RDs), all begging for endorsement by the educated professional, the bridge to the confused consumer. When did the dietitian become the “middle man” for these companies? This creates an unfair marketplace advantage for companies that have more money to spend on free consumer resources. It also creates the impression that if these brands have more visibility in the dietitian’s office then, they appear to be the “healthiest” choice available, because why else would the dietitian choose these materials?
Free or low cost branded materials do not imply endorsement of quality nutrition and this is one area where I feel the Academy is failing to have strict standards.
As a result of this, RDs are now associated with this image of “brand bribery” which is leading potential clients to look elsewhere for their nutrition advice. I’m worried that the reputation of the RD is at stake and that the perceived value as a respected and trusted professional is becoming riddled with recommendations from the most popular, most pervasive food industry brands whether we as dietitians are consciously aware of this or not.
However, I’m hopeful that this image can be repaired and the RD may become the trusted, nutrition professional that the Academy says we are. Taking cues from the pharmaceutical model, I would love to see the food industry provide educational materials that are brand-free. I would love to see the Academy step up on our behalf to demonstrate our trustworthiness by aligning our image with unbranded action, results and outcomes. As registered dietitians, we’ve been transforming the health and lives of countless individuals through our knowledge, empathy and professional skills, not because of our association with the food industry.”