Today is National Registered Dietitian Day (the first Registered Dietitian Day was celebrated in 2008). It’s certainly a fitting moment to recognize those dietitians who do terrific work and represent the credential with integrity, professionalism, and an utmost desire to help the public navigate our complex food system.
It is also a time to think about how our credential is represented by our professional organization, how it’s perceived by the public and other health professionals, and how we can reclaim it from an industry that uses it as a shield to deflect criticism and scrutiny. Although Dietitians For Professional Integrity has, over the past year, illuminated a part of the Academy that many preferred to shove under the proverbial rug, there is more to do.
Raising awareness is important, and we co-founders have seen firsthand at speaking engagements how many dietitians and dietitians-to-be are beginning to connect the dots between who sponsors the Academy and the Academy’s messaging and reputation.
It also bears repeating that our efforts are about looking — and moving — forward. There is no value in getting stuck in the past and casting blame on members of Academy leadership who, at one point in time, thought that benefits could be derived from partnering with the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Kellogg’s.
After all, that model had its heyday at one point, and it has only been in the past five years that even conservative/”middle of the road” organizations like the World Health Organization have questioned ties between health organizations and the food industry — and rightfully criticized them for the consequences they have on public health messaging.
We are now at a point in history where the connections between food and health – and, especially food and disease – are clearer than ever.
So, we must ask: Why is the leading national nutrition organization’s response to a troubling health epidemic to “sit at the table” with the very companies that largely created this mess, and allow them to teach dietitians? Leadership often requires out-of-the-box thinking, asking tough questions, and challenging the status quo. Change stems from new and different ideas; not riding the fence and maintaining the status quo.
Holding the industry to higher standards — and helping form policy that holds it accountable — is not about “negativity”, it is about putting the health of Americans first. Our goal is not for the Academy to completely shut off all communication with the food industry; we simply do not want industry funding our organization or having the kind of unfiltered access it currently has to this country’s dietitians.
This movement is in its infancy, but it is growing daily. And while there are slightly over a dozen of us who co-founded this group, our future depends on all of us who feel strongly about this issue speaking up. Let’s all help build a future where Registered Dietitian Day doesn’t bring up mixed emotions, but rather pride that our credential stands for forward-thinking, unbiased science.