As scrutiny about its partnerships with the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, and General Mills amps up, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics staunchly continues its defense of these ties.
The latest issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics contains an article titled “Advancing Health through Sustained Collaboration: How the History of Corporate Relations Extended the Academy’s Reach,” the fifth article in a series on the Academy’s history from 1990 to the present.
It is a lengthy article but here are a few passages that stood out to us, along with our thoughts:
- “Typically, the funding from industry allows associations the opportunity and capacity to produce more multifaceted projects and enjoy greater public outreach. Meanwhile, the associations, boasting established credibility, represent an opportunity for corporations to communicate messages to target audienceswhile demonstrating good corporate citizenship—a tactic that is expected more and more in today’s corporate culture.”
“Tactic” is certainly the right term. By and large, partnerships with health organizations allow industry to shield itself from criticism. This type of “good corporate citizenship” is usually pulled out of industry’s hat when it has to answer to concerns about unhealthy ingredients, deceptive marketing, and issues with environmental practices.
- “If one group is dedicated to understanding and recommending food choices that encourage a total diet approach, and another group is concerned about maximizing profits within its market segment, aren’t their goals inherently at odds? The short answer is no.”
First, let’s clarify that a “total diet approach” is music to industry’s ears. A “total diet approach” is not the same thing as an approach that prioritizes health. With that said, an organization that is meant to improve the health of Americans certainly has goals that are odd with a company whose livelihood depends on the sales of soft drinks, potato chips, and sugary cereals.
As Dr. Marion Nestle recently stated in a Today’s Dietitian article, “if the Academy is sold out to the food industry, then dietitians appear as contributing to current health problems, not to their solution.”
- “The history of the corporate relations at the Academy has adroitly
demonstrated many times over the past several decades that an innovative, above-board corporate relations program can have far-reaching, positive outcomes on the profession’s status.”
AND’s history of corporate relations has mainly resulted in scathing criticism and bad press. By and large, it has been a public relations headache. The current sponsorship model is low-hanging fruit for anyone who wishes to criticize dietitians.
- “The potential inherent in these partnerships has been a recurring
theme, as accepting a seat “at the same table with food companies” can translate to the Academy having a positive influence on industry.”
DFPI ADDS: Again we ask — can someone point us to concrete examples?
The fact that PepsiCo and Coca-Cola hire RDs is not a strong enough argument or anything that goes above and beyond (hospitals, WIC offices, dyalisis clinics, and supermarkets also hire RDs). The Academy has been sitting at the table with industry for years, and not only do food companies continue with the same behavior; Americans as a whole are not healthier.
- “The Academy has worked tirelessly over the years— through all iterations of the program’s design—to ensure that the profit-driven interests of its corporate sponsors are supplanted by its mindfulness,
and respect, of the Academy’s goals.”
Does this 2012 interview with a Coca-Cola executive respect the Academy’s goals?
The article also contains a sampling of one-time projects between AND and industry, including:
1) Working with The Sugar Association on nutrition and fitness programming in concert with Healthy People 2000;
2) Working with Nutrasweet and Hershey’s on a Healthy Weight for Kids program;
3) Working with Campbell Soup and the Food Processors’ Institute to help educate practitioners on the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (very interesting considering that industry stomped its feet and threw a tantrum when that act was first proposed).
Lastly, we wish the article examined the large swath of gray that exists in this issue, rather than operate from a “current sponsors vs. no sponsors” false dichotomy. As we have explained since our inception, there is lots of room for dialogue on what constitutes *appropriate* sponsorship.