Today’s statement of concern comes from Ann Lipkin, MS, RD, CD, CNSD. This statement of concern is actually a letter that Ann wrote in 2009 to then-president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Jessie Pavlinac.
Note: In 2009, AND still operated under its former name — the American Dietetic Association — but, for clarity, we changed all mentions of ADA to AND in Ann’s letter:
“I am very disturbed by the AND’s corporate sponsorship program and I propose that this issue be brought to the House of Delegates as a Mega issue. I am very unhappy that this partnership suggests a marriage between our profession and soft drink and candy manufacturers. It is appalling that we are promoting ourselves as the “nutrition experts” working to teach the public and to gain the trust and respect of the medical profession while allowing our name to appear with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mars, etc. This presents a confusing message to the public, destroys our integrity within the medical profession and is an extreme embarrassment to the membership who are aware.
I believe that this corporate sponsorship program violates our Code of Ethics. Our Code of Ethics published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109: (8) 1461-1467, 2009 was adopted “to reflect the values and ethical principles guiding the dietetics profession and to set forth commitments and obligations of the dietetics practitioner to the public client, the profession, colleagues, and other professionals.”
Our function is to be the experts in nutrition and to be a reliable source of information for the public and our clients. A fundamental principle in our Code of Ethics is that the dietetic practitioner “accepts the obligation to protect clients, the public, and the profession by upholding the Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics and by reporting perceived violations of the Code…”. How is the public supposed to understand our relationships with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Mars Inc other than to assume that the AND believes these foods to be healthy?
I believe that the products for which these companies are best known do not represent the best health interests of the American public. By saying nothing about the problems with these foods, by not specifically addressing the concerns about these foods and yet allowing our name to be associated with theirs, we are misleading the public.
We have the responsibility to “consider the health, safety, and welfare of the public at all times.” Our Code of Ethics tells us that the dietetics professional should not engage in “false or misleading practices or communications,” but rather “promote or endorse specific products only in a manner that is not false or misleading.” What hypocrisy this is!
In regards to responsibilities to the profession, our Code of Ethics states that “the dietetics practitioner is alert to the occurrence of real or potential conflicts of interest and takes appropriate action whenever a conflict arises.” This is why I am writing to you.
We, as practitioners, are not supposed to accept gifts beyond “nominal value.” I am told that our corporate sponsorship program is providing approximately two million dollars to our organization. How on earth than this be called “nominal”? In her response to my complaint about our corporate sponsorship program, Jennifer Horton told me that “90 percent of AND’s funding comes from member dues, professional meetings, and nonprofit associations and governmental agencies.” I would be more than happy to have my dues increased by ten percent and maintain the integrity of my organization.
I believe there are many dietitians who are not AND members because they are disgusted by the corporate sponsorship program. When I began speaking to dietitian friends and colleagues about this issue, four of them told me outright that corporate sponsorship had affected their decision to join AND or attend a conference. These comments were unsolicited remarks – I did not ask what these dietitians’ thoughts were. I was expressing my feelings and these comments were included in their responses. I suspect that the public health sector of our profession is outraged.
I went to the stacks at the University of Washington Medical Center health sciences library to see how long this corporate sponsorship program has been in effect. Here is what I found by browsing through our journal:
* In the November 2006 issue, there were five advertisements for food and two “thank you to our sponsors” pages, one was for the sponsors for the October FNCE [DFPI ADDS: FNCE is the Academy’s annual conference] meeting and the other was for the 2006 House of Delegates meeting at FNCE.
* In the December 2006 issue, there were 3 full-page advertisements for food, no full page ads about corporate sponsors other than a small blurb about what number to call to “learn more about AND’s new corporate relations sponsorship program.”
* In the March 2007 issue, there were six food product or oral supplements ads, nothing naming corporate sponsors directly.
* In the May 2007 issue, the first “Thank you to our AND Partners: Aramark, Glaxo Smith Klein, National Dairy Council, Unilever, and our premier sponsors: General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars Inc.” appeared.
* In the September 2007 issue, there were 18 advertisements for food or oral supplements in the journal and this issue was also the first full-page “Special Thank You to our AND Partners: Glaxo Klein Smith, Unilever, National Dairy Council, Aramark, PepsiCo, and our premier sponsors General Mills, CoroWise, Mars Inc, and Kellogg’s.”
* This sponsorship “Thank You” page appears in every journal afterwards and the list is growing, such that by the June 2009 issue, the journal contained six full-page ads for foods or oral nutrition supplements and the partners now include Aramark, Coca-Cola, National Dairy Council, PepsiCo, and Unilever with premier sponsors Abbott, CoroWise, General Mills, Kelloggs, Mars Inc, McNeil Nutritionals, SoyJoy, and Truvia.
* The September 2009 issue contained ten full-page ads for food products or oral supplements.
I’m sure that you are aware of the recent publicity that the American Academy of Family Physicians received about their partnership with Coca-Cola. We as an organization are in trouble. I propose that this issue be brought to the House of Delegates and discussed as a “Mega issue.” Thank you for your consideration.”