Today’s statement of concern comes from Dominic Marro, RD, CDN:
“I have been a registered dietitian for over 20 years. I am not a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics mainly due to its sponsorship policy. I believe that an organization that professes to improve the nation’s health through diet should not seek sponsorship from any food company or food industry trade group. Such sponsorships serve only to hurt the reputation of the Academy and that of all registered dietitians.
Americans can perceive corporate and industry sponsors in one of two ways; both of which are bad.
1. The sponsors can be perceived as sharing in the Academy’s commitment to our nation’s health. This is laughably untrue and deceptive when you consider that the current sponsors include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg’s.
2. The sponsors can be perceived for what they are – a company or trade group that is using the Academy to sell more products. In essence, the Academy is perceived as a public relations arm of that company or group.
No matter how loud the Academy shouts that it is not a mouthpiece for industry, many Americans aren’t buying it. Count this RD as one of them.
A dietitian I know was asked to participate on a sponsorship policy task force for a statewide dietetics association. She is the current President of a regional dietetics association and she has expressed her concern about the statewide association’s selection of food and pharmaceutical representatives as members of the task force. She has received support from presidents of two additional regional dietetics associations.
The responses she has received from the state association’s leadership reveal that the leadership does not believe that industry sponsors serving on a Statewide Dietetic Association’s Sponsorship Task Force results in a conflict of interest.
The dairy representative on the task force defended her role by responding that industry perspective is needed. I vehemently disagree with this assertion. I can’t imagine why she would think that any dietitian (not tied to her particular industry) would care even a little bit about her perspective? Her perspective, first and foremost, is to promote dairy foods. I admit that I am not a fan of dairy foods and do not promote them, but that is irrelevant.
Even if her main objective was to promote foods that I also promote, I would still be against her participation. The conflict of interest still exists and cannot be tolerated (UPDATE: since writing this statement of concern, I have been notified that the sponsorship task force has been suspended, which further demonstrates Academy leadership’s refusal to tackle this topic).
Registered Dietitians must understand that when they work for food or pharmaceutical companies, or in the food industry, anything they say or write will be considered as suspicious by a certain percentage of the population.
Ultimately, the Academy’s ties to Big Food sponsors have resulted in intense distrust of the organization, both from dietitians as well as other health professionals and the general public. Dietitians’ reputations as objective practitioners have been significantly damaged by our professional organization’s friendly ties with companies whose portfolios include chips, soda, and sugary cereals. It is a true shame that knowledgeable nutrition professionals who worked hard for a credential are undermined by the very organization that is supposed to represent them in a positive light.
This is an issue that the Academy needs to address once and for all. The reputation of our credential is at stake, and it is time we stop the food industry from co-opting and using it as a public relations shield.”