In email conversations earlier this year with Past President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Glenna McCollum, DFPI’s concerns about the current corporate sponsors were largely dismissed with the explanation that the Academy’s Board members are “constantly reviewing” sponsorship policies (alas, when we asked for examples of how this is achieved, we weren’t provided with any).
Publicly, the Academy continues to stand by its ties with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and McDonald’s.
The latest (subtle?) message from the Academy on public and private partnerships: an “advertising feature”, titled “Improving School Nutrition and Physical Activity Environments: Putting Public-Private Partnerships to Work,” in the latest issue of its Food & Nutrition magazine, which is sent to all 70,000+ members every two months.
The advertising feature is purposefully made to look like a stand-alone article. Below, some quotes that caught our eye along with our thoughts:
1) “Recommendations today from wellness experts acknowledge that schools need support from the government, parents, teachers, the business community, and the private sector. We really are “all in this together.”
This statement is not footnoted, so we are not sure which wellness experts the authors are referring to. Certainly, since our inception in February of 2013, we have featured the many renowned public health experts — Dr. Marion Nestle, Dr. Barry Popkin, Dr. Margaret Chan, Dr. Gyorgy Scrinis, Boyd Swinburn, Dr. Roberto Di Vogli, and Dr. Carlos Monteiro, just to name a few — who caution health organizations from entering into partnerships with Big Food.
Note, too, how this sentence sets up the all-too-familiar strawman argument that inevitably pops up whenever this issue is discussed: that raising concerns about Big Food partnerships is equivalent to taking issue with all private sector partnerships. It is convenient to paint those of us with concerns about Big Food as being against the entire private sector, but such is not the case. As we have specified from the beginning, we think the Academy needs to identify more ethical and responsible sponsors. The notion that one either accepts funding from Coca-Cola or accepts no funding at all from industry is nothing more than a tactic implemented to frame advocates as “extreme.”
2) “Looking at the three public health-private partnership initiatives that involve the food industry and in which we personally have been key players, we’ve concluded that these types of partnerships are not only feasible, but can be extremely effective. Many nutrition professionals are familiar, or indeed have been directly involved, with one or more of them. They are: Action for Healthy Kids, Fuel Up to Play 60, and GENYOUth Foundation.”
One of the authors of this piece — Jean Ragalie-Carr, RDN — is the President of the National Dairy Council (the three programs mentioned above are all ones the National Dairy Council co-created).
The Dairy Council’s various health programs have been rightfully criticized by health advocates for years.
Last month, public health lawyer Michele Simon released a groundbreaking report titled “Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods.” In it, DFPI Strategic Director Andy Bellatti analyzed Fuel Up To Play 60, and wrote the following:
“One significant concern with FUTP60 is that it utilizes weight loss as its framework, and not only ties that in with physical activity but also with dairy products. Yet the evidence linking physical activity to weight loss is extremely weak, and the latest research has shown that overall fitness matters more from a health standpoint than weight. Not only is there no evidence that dairy helps with weight loss, but many of the products pushed in the literature contain added calories – empty ones, at that – from added sugar. The dairy industry is doing everything in its power to associate its products with health, weight loss, wellness, and children’s performance in school. Fuel Up to Play 60 is a marketing campaign hiding behind a veneer of nutrition science.”
3) “There is an important evolution in thinking and practice about public-private partnerships evident among Action for Healthy Kids, Fuel Up To Play 60, and GENYOUth Foundation, and a real complementarity among these three closely connected initiatives.”
What all these programs have in common is Big Food trying its hardest to deflect blame and control health messaging. Consider that GENYOUth’s sponsors include Domino’s Pizza, The National Dairy Council, and Leprino Foods (“the largest lactose producer in the world”). It’s essentially a PR effort to push pizza in schools as a healthful food, disguised as an empowering wellness program.
Earlier this morning, we came across a press release announcing that “today the PepsiCo Foundation announced two grants geared towards improving the health and wellness of America’s kids through the power of physical activity and good nutrition. The grants, totaling $1.25 million USD, support the GENYOUth Foundation’s flagship program, Fuel Up to Play 60, and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Healthy Zone School (HZS) Recognition Program, two leading school-based health and wellness programs.”
We were quite disturbed — and disappointed — to see this advertisement in the Academy’s Food & Nutrition magazine.
Why not, instead, devote that editorial space to a point-counterpoint on the issue of sponsorships?