Update: 20 minutes after this post went up, we received a response from President McCollum.
Last November, we had a brief meeting with Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics president Dr. Glenna McCollum and past-president Ethan Bergman at AND’s annual conference.
Since then, a few emails have been exchanged between us and President McCollum, in which we (DFPI) explained why we formed this group and what kind of reform we would like to see in regards to Academy sponsors.
Late last year, we suggested moving the conversation from emails to a conference call setting so that we could have a dynamic, real-time conversation with several Academy leaders; that suggestion was turned down (that wasn’t too surprising; it’s very likely the Academy is receiving legal counsel to have all communications with us on this issue in writing).
Below is the last email we sent President McCollum over four weeks ago, which we have not received an answer to (we sent a follow-up/reminder email last Tuesday).
NOTE: Our email to President McCollum quoted excerpts from her last reply to us. We are not sharing those excerpts below since we have not asked for permission to share her messages publicly:
“Dear Dr. McCollum,
Thank you for your prompt response. For better continuity, we will respond to your previous email piecemeal:
* DFPI is aware of [Dietitian Practice Group] HEN [Hunger and Environmental Nutrition]’s role in this conversation. On that note: does the Academy currently have — or is the Academy currently working on — detailed sponsorship guidelines or criteria to aid decision-making about this issue?
* Since sponsorship issues (such as the decision for the Academy to enter into partnerships with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in 2008) come under the authority of the Board of Directors, wouldn’t it be advisable that all future correspondence include everyone on the BOD? We understand that the president (or any other single individual) cannot make changes to the sponsorship policy, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep key individuals who have some clout on this topic in the loop?
Additionally, DFPI is very interested in knowing what the various members of the Board of Directors think about this topic. Do any of them think partnerships with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in any way harm the RD credential’s reputation? Or, do they all think the current sponsorship model is appropriate and that no reform is at all necessary? We are also interested in learning how the Board continually evaluates sponsorship.
* One survey [of Academy members] we would like to see is one that specifically asks RDs to rate each of the Academy’s current sponsors on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “strongly disapprove of” and 5 being “strongly approve of”). We think this is particularly important since HEN’s survey — which touched on that question — was deemed unsatisfactory by the Academy.
* In 2013, sponsorships accounted for almost $2.3 million. In the event that this sponsorship money were completely eliminated – DFPI is not anti-sponsorship, but let’s hypothetically say the Academy stopped receiving sponsorships altogether – it could be made up by having each of the 70,000 or so Academy members pay an additional $32 a year.
If guidelines on more ethical and responsible sponsorship were implemented and, say, half of that $2.3 million can be raised, then annual dues for each of the Academy’s 70,000 members would go up $16 a year.
This would be another question we would like to see the Academy pose to its constituents — would members be okay with paying $16 more a year (slightly over $1 additional a month) if it meant that the Academy had sponsors that better aligned with the organization’s mission to improve the health of Americans?
We also want to make something very clear: DFPI does not operate from the belief that Academy members who once supported these partnerships did so with bad intentions. We are not looking to cast blame; we are looking to create a better future. How can we continue to advance our profession if the Academy’s current corporate sponsorships serve as fodder for diminishing our profession’s credibility and our organization’s reputation?
We believe there is a better way to employ partnerships where the groups and companies we align with can bolster our profession’s philosophy rather than create opportunities for skeptics to question our expertise.
We understand these are not easy conversations but are hopeful that we can work together to translate this dialogue into action.
Thank you for your continued time and attention to this matter.”
Our sincere hope is that further dialogue and correspondence is on its way.