Dietética Sin Patrocinadores (DSP, which translates to Dietetics Without Sponsors) is a group based in Spain with similar concerns and goals to Dietitians For Professional Integrity, albeit with a very different background and history that is specific to the academic and professional climate in Spain.
To help showcase their efforts and also show how some of our dietitian colleagues in Europe are navigating similar territory, we conducted an email interview with DSP’s leaders (which we will share in two parts; one today, the other on Monday).
Part one is below.
Q: What is the current status of the relationship between the food industry and nutrition professionals in Spain?
A: Industry influence is all over our “healthy eating pyramid,” where we see recommendations that are more about appeasing industry than delivering messages of health (i.e.: recommending alcoholic beverages). The way federal dietary guidelines are written is also very industry-friendly, with a general “all foods fit” message.
Unlike in the United States, the issue of dietetics in Spain is really complicated.
For decades, nutrition issues in Spain were handled by doctors, nurses, or anyone who had a degree in food science or who completed some coursework (not a degree) related to nutrition.
It wasn’t until 1995 that dietitian academic programs were offered. And it wasn’t until 2003 that a law was passed which stated that only individuals who take a four-year program in human nutrition sciences can use the term “dietitian-nutritionist” to identify themselves.
As a result, several nutrition organizations were created several decades back, each one wanting a piece of the nutrition pie. We now have: the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (SNF), the Spanish Society of Nutrition (SSN), the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition (SSCN), and the Spanish Society of Dietetics and Food Science (SSDFS) — all of which have ties to Big Food.
Q: How and when did you start Dietetica Sin Patrocinadores? What are your goals?
A: DSP was officially created in December of 2013. Prior to that, many of us met online via social media, with the common thread that we were very unhappy the food industry’s influence over general dietary recommendations and these large and well-established nutrition organizations.
Over time, many of us decided to take action. In January of 2014 we held our first virtual conference via Google Hangout, where the idea is to get informed on various issues in nutrition without any problematic industry ties. We just had our fifteenth Google Hangout on January 24th, which focused on celiac disease.
This was such a success that later in 2014 we had our first “real”/”in-person” conference, with over 100 attendees. In order to help facilitate networking, we held various round-table discussions, rather than traditional lectures. In 2014 we also began paperwork to be established as a non-profit scientific association in Spain.
In May of 2015 we had another in-person conference — this time with 200 attendees. Due to space constraints, an additional 180 of our colleagues were put on a waiting list and unable to attend. Our next conference takes place this May.
Our priority is to call out conflicts of interest that exist between the food industry and the various nutrition organizations in Spain, as well as help deliver health-based messaging to the general population that prioritizes health over corporate interests.
The food industry has gotten very used to calling the shots here, and we think it’s time to change that.
Q: How did your dietitian colleagues react to your group’s formation?
A: We had a variety of reactions. Many told us this type of group is one they’ve been waiting for. Others are neutral and keeping an eye on what we are doing without fully getting on board. And, others who don’t think the food industry has a negative influence on recommendations.
We respect different viewpoints, although we are always mindful to point out problematic industry co-optation and conflicts of interest. We think it is more important to keep building our organization and making a case as to why our work is important, rather than try to convince anyone who disagrees with us that we are in the right and they are in the wrong. That isn’t helpful.
We also believe some dietitians are hesitant to speak out because here in Spain the food industry is a source of employment, and some fear that joining our group may jeopardize future career opportunities.