Today’s statement of concern comes from Sarah Lefkowitz, RD (Twitter handle: @fearlessfig)
“The topic of corporate sponsorship is one I have spent a lot of time discussing, debating and trying to understand. As a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (CAND) and former president of the Los Angeles Dietetic Association (LAD), I am very familiar with this issue.
During my presidency of LAD, McDonald’s offered our organization a $1,000 sponsorship. They arranged for our team to visit their Santa Monica facility, tour their kitchen, and have them explain their “best practices.” They talked about their fair trade coffee, and the many jobs that were created within the coffee industry as a result. They talked about their “smoothies” and how they used only local blueberries from local farms that were sent to their retail stores. The tour was led by a very intelligent dietitian who was primed, prepped and ready to answer any questions about the integrity of the company.
After the excursion, we discussed their sponsorship offer as an executive board, and voted against it. We did not want to stand as health educators with McDonald’s logo behind us. Even though they eloquently answered all our questions, something felt inherently wrong about the potential partnership.
I have heard many arguments in favor of accepting funding from the likes of McDonald’s (i.e.: large corporate sponsorships allow smaller businesses and research to be presented at annual symposiums, large corporations are a prevalent part of our culture and society and we need to acknowledge them, our clients will eat at McDonald’s regardless of our advice). My concerns have to do with how these sponsorships affect our reputation and credibility as health professionals.
I recently had the opportunity to see “Fed Up,” a new documentary that discusses the current public health situation. One of the most fascinating areas they covered was Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. At its inception, the First Lady took a powerful stance, targeting both food corporations as well as exercise habits among children and adolescents. Immediately, the food corporations panicked and, in true form, went into ‘damage control’ mode and did what they know best: partnered with the campaign.
Once this occurred, “Let’s Move!” began to increasingly focus on lack of exercise as the most pressing issue, and lessened its criticism of industry. Meanwhile, the food industry celebrated the fact that they pulled 1.5 trillion calories off the market. While that sounds like a massive amount, it only translates to 14 calories per consumer!
Food products are consistently reformulated to be more consistent with trendy health messages, but the bottom line is that hyper-processed and minimally nutritious foods are prevalent on supermarket shelves, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year to market them — largely to children. It’s too bad that “Let’s Move!” shifted from a campaign on changing eating habits to one focused on exercise and making “healthier” food choices. It is yet another example of how food corporations have too large of a role in communicating public health messages that ultimately confuse the public.
It is precisely for the reasons above that the Los Angeles District Association recently decided to take a stance on corporate sponsorship. We know we are fighting a powerful entity, but will continue to stand our ground to ensure that the right research and information is provided to the public.”