Today’s statement of concern is written by Hannah Thornton, MS, RD, LD (Twitter handle: @hannahbthornton):
“During the orientation to the Dietetic Internship I began in August of 2012, we spent a day discussing professional integrity. Of particular interest to me was the clause in the 2009 AND Code of Ethics relating to conflict of interest:
“The dietetics practitioner is alert to the occurrence of a real or potential conflict of interest and takes appropriate action whenever a conflict arises.” We discussed this at length, reviewed examples provided by the Commission for Dietetic Registration, and decided that this precluded an RD from selling supplements that she also recommends during nutritional counseling.
For me, this was a heartening conclusion. I have seen many health care practitioners attend numerous continuing education seminars sponsored by nutraceutical companies only to conclude that all health issues could be cured by taking said nutraceutical. I felt inspired to join a profession with such a strong moral fabric.
Then I read the blog posts and reports that spawned this mini-movement, and I realized that, while individual RDs might be held to remarkable ethical standards, this was not necessarily true of our professional association.
Recently, I have been returning to the Code of Ethics for our profession, published by AND. Corporate sponsorship of AND by the likes of Coca Cola and McDonald’s is at odds with many of principles outlined within that code, including the first Fundamental Principle:
“The dietetics practitioner conducts himself/herself with honesty, integrity, and fairness.” How can we conduct ourselves with fairness if the information we receive at continuing education seminars represents a lopsided view of the existing scientific literature? How can we conduct ourselves with integrity if we are beholden to specific corporations because of their financial support for our conferences and lobbying efforts?
Our Code of Ethics obligates us to:
– consider “the health, safety, and welfare of the public at all times”;
– provide “professional services with objectivity and with respect for the unique needs and values of individuals”;
– promote or endorse “specific goods or products only in a manner that is not false and misleading”;
– practice “dietetics based on evidence-based principles and current information”;
– present “reliable and substantiated information and [interpret] controversial information without personal bias”;
and finally, the big one:
– “the dietetics practitioner does not invite, accept, or offer gifts, monetary incentives, or other considerations that affect or reasonably give an appearance of affecting his/her professional judgment.”
These are important and admirable expectations for professional practice. They enhance the practice of every dietitian, and protect the integrity of the services we offer. In a world full of businesses seeking to boost sales through product endorsement by health care practitioners, these principles make our services unique. I look forward to belonging to a professional association that lives up to these principles. Even if it takes some work to get there.”