The topic of corporate sponsorships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has become one of the most important issues facing the profession. Many city, county, and state-level dietetic associations have started debating the topic and re-evaluating who they obtain funds from (some have invited DFPI co-founders to give talks, an opportunity we are very grateful for and that has been met with very positive reception).
The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — which lists McDonald’s as a gold sponsor and food industry front group the International Food Information Council as a bronze sponsor — recently sent out a survey to its members (which, oddly, can be filled out an infinite number of times, as there is no user-specific URL).
We can’t truly say it is a “sponsorship survey” because, much in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, questions about sponsorship only come up if respondents choose that their reason for not attending the upcoming state conference in April is that “there are too many sponsorships” (a very strange choice of words, given that the true concern is not the number of sponsors, but rather the *type* of sponsors).
What we find most troubling about this survey is that it propagates the binary “take money from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola or pay hundreds more in dues” model, which is inaccurate and does not recognize the sizeable gray area between those two extremes. As we have stated many times, DFPI is not wholly anti-sponsorship; rather, we advocate for more responsible and ethical sponsorship.
Here is one question from the survey:
“You indicated that sponsorships of [the California Dietetic Association] are a major concern in attending conferences. If we have fewer sponsors, the program and formatting of the conference will need to change. Which of the following changes would motivate you to come to a meeting of sponsorships were reduced?
a) Reduce the number of days of the conference and eliminate meals and reduced-cost lodging.
b) Higher cost for attendance by about $400-$500 per person
c) Limit the sponsors and increase fees by $200-$300 per person” (this answer is followed by the following parenthetical remark: “if selected, ask them to list sponsors that are not acceptable”; clearly inadvertently left behind from an earlier draft, particularly since at no point does the survey ask respondents to list unacceptable sponsors).”
This question is problematic because it implies that the only alternative to taking money from McDonald’s is to pay hundreds of more dollars in fees. It’s certainly a convenient framework if maintaining the status quo is what you’re after. It is not, however, accurate.
Has the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at potential alternative sponsors and considered how much revenue they could potentially get? Did they consider different ways in which the budget could be trimmed in other areas?
If the only way an organization can afford to sustain itself without having members pay outrageous dues is by having McDonald’s as a gold sponsor, then our profession is in significant trouble (especially since reputable and larger organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, do not have these controversial sponsorships) .