Today’s statement of concern comes from Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD:
Being a dietitian is much more than reciting nutrition facts, helping people achieve a healthy weight, or calculating protein needs to heal a wound. Perhaps the most important responsibility of being a dietitian is advocating for a veracious food system, something I do not believe is currently reflected by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ corporate sponsorship model.
Even in the relatively short period of time that I’ve been an RD, my perspectives on nutrition have changed immensely. Influenced greatly by the imbalanced and deceptive character of many Big Food players, I’ve realized how necessary it has become to question the norm. After all, when did it become status quo for the world’s largest sugar-laden beverage companies to be leading the education of America’s nutrition experts? The Academy’s mission statement, “Advancing public health and nutrition utilizing the expertise of Registered Dietitians”, is a futile endeavor for RDs when our profession is backed by sponsors who do the exact opposite.
I am disheartened not only to see controversial giants sponsoring the future of my profession, but also fast food bigwigs and weight loss schemers regularly mixed into the FNCE exhibitor list. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the AND’s corporate sponsorships are not going unnoticed by the rest of society and RD credibility is questioned because of it, regardless of our extensive training. In a time where anyone can complete a Google education and call themselves a “nutritionist”, and we are forced to fight tooth and nail in politics to defend the RD, it is essential for the Academy to represent dietitians with respectable, transparent corporate sponsors.
In a country running on quick fixes, convenience, a skewed food pyramid and secondhand research, Americans are deceived by the food system on a daily basis. The Academy is helping to perpetuate this culture; their presumable good intentions are quickly rescinded by the businesses they have chosen to represent dietetics. Reorganization of their sponsorship model to bring values like environmental sustainability, fair trade, animal welfare, and social responsibility to the forefront of dietetics is essential for change. However, that would challenge the sentiments of many current sponsors.
I would bet there are companies who fit this model and are willing to provide sponsorship; it would be a tragedy if they felt unable to do so based on their size, financial capabilities, or misalignment with perceived Academy ideology.
People rely on me to provide forthright nutrition advice and, since obtaining my MPH, my focus has been on prevention. I no longer relay the “everything in moderation” message drilled into our heads as RDs, because I believe it normalizes unhealthy food choices (many of which are made by Academy corporate sponsors) and devalues the art of preparing food from wholesome ingredients.
Instead, I challenge people to adopt lifestyles that benefit their personal health, preservation of the planet, and respect for other beings. Unfortunately, this is not the same message being displayed by the organization that helped me attain my credential. Being an AND member has allowed many opportunities for which I am forever grateful, but I’m no longer convinced that maintaining my membership is a choice in line with my personal and professional ideals.
I look forward to engaging in productive conversation with the Academy so that, together, we can make positive changes.”