Dietitians for Professional Integrity was co-founded in February of 2013 by Registered Dietitians Kelly Ahearn, Frances Arnold, Alysa Bajenaru, Andy Bellatti*, Lauri Boone, Judy Converse, Brittany Craig, Aaron Flores, Denise Garbinski*, Rachel Harvest, Jess Kolko*, Elizabeth Lee*, Leslie Riding, Debra Riedesel, Matt Ruscigno and David A. Wiss*. The impetus for the group’s formation was a January 2013 report by public health lawyer Michele Simon that examined the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ industry ties.
(*) denotes a current DFPI core executive member.
2. Who funds Dietitians For Professional Integrity?
Dietitians for Professional Integrity is a 100% volunteer-run organization. All executive core members do this work with no financial compensation. All startup costs (i.e.: logo design, domain registration, hiring a web designer/IT person) were 100% funded by DFPI’s co-founders.
We offer our supporters the opportunity to donate money to help us recover startup costs and help fund future activities. All donations have come from individual supporters (many of them RDs). We are not sponsored or funded in any way by any organization, trade group, or company.
3. Why are you speaking out against your professional organization? Isn’t that disloyal?
Change can only come from speaking out and voicing concerns. All social movements that led to positive change began with a group of people who expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo in hopes of mobilizing others. Remaining silent under the guise of loyalty does not address issues, help foster dialogue, or provide room for problem-solving. Loyalty is a virtue; blind loyalty is a detriment.
The American Medical Association did not publicly acknowledge the harms of cigarette smoking until 1978, despite decades of research supporting that conclusion. Some doctors first raised concerns about their professional organization’s ties to tobacco companies as early as 1964. It was precisely this leadership and advocacy, combined with scientific evidence and public pressure, that brought about change.
4. A lot of other organizations have similar partnerships. Why are you singling out on The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics?
We understand that Big Food’s infiltration of health organizations is a systemic issue. However, as dietitians, we are most concerned about our professional organization. We also are much more likely to bring change to an organization we are members of (many of us active and paying members) rather than one we don’t have such a connection with.
5. Why demonize the food industry? Why not work with them and sit at the same table to bring change?
This effort is not about demonizing the food industry as a whole. The food industry exists on a continuum; the well-known Big Food players that are current Academy partners merely represent one extreme. This is precisely why Dietitians For Professional Integrity advocates for more responsible, ethical, and relevant sponsorships, rather than zero sponsorship (that said, some organizations, like the American College of Nutrition, have eliminated all funding from for-profit companies). We believe Big Food has a starkly different mission from that of a health organization.
6. Won’t membership dues and conference costs increase significantly without food industry funding?
In 2015, Academy sponsorships brought in $598,113. If this funding source were eliminated, it could be made up by having each of the roughly 75,000 Academy members pay an additional $8 a year. If guidelines on more ethical and responsible sponsorship were implemented and half of that money can be raised from more appropriate sponsors, annual dues for each of the Academy’s 75,000 members would go up only $4 a year. There is also the possibility, of course, that 100 percent of current sponsorship funds can be obtained from more ethical sponsors.
NOTE: This amount is significant lower than it has been in the past. In 2013, for example, sponsorships brought in $2.3 million.
7. The annual AND conference, FNCE, is a food and nutrition conference. Doesn’t it make sense to have food companies there so we can tell our clients about new products?
Unlike a regular food trade show, FNCE also relates to nutrition. We believe, therefore, that it is most appropriate and relevant to showcase food products that can help the clients we work with improve their health. We can learn about new cookies, chips, ice creams, and sugary cereals by visiting company websites and visiting local grocery stores. We certainly don’t need to be introduced to these products in a duplicitous fashion that paints them as “better-for-you” or “healthy.”
8. Nestlé also makes tube feed formulas. They belong at our national conference!
Tube feed formulas are definitely relevant to our profession, and it makes sense for these products to be showcased at the annual conference. This is why we advocate for expo guidelines, which would provide guidance on what products are appropriate for a dietitian audience (i.e.: Nestlé may showcase its tube feed formulas, but not its candy bars).
Consider that, currently, the Nestlé booth at FNCE showcases tube feed formulas along with Sweet Tarts candies, frozen pizzas, ice cream, and Hot Pockets.
It is also important to keep corporate behavior in mind. Nestlé has been at the center of many controversies for the way it aggressively markets formula in hospitals, to the point where it violates codes and regulations.
9. I’m a dietitian and I sometimes purchase Coca-Cola products/drink soda/eat “junk food”. What’s so bad about that?
Dietitians For Professional Integrity’s efforts focus on our professional organization’s messaging, not the individual eating habits of dietitians. It is a professional organization’s responsibility to deliver health-conscious messages to the general public.
10. PepsiCo has a range of healthier products, Quaker Oats, bottled water, whole grain chips, low sodium chips, and diet sodas. If we recommend these items in moderation, what is wrong with taking their money?
The presence of some healthier items does not absolve companies that largely profit from the marketing and sale of unhealthy products. Being associated with companies largely known for chips and soda does not increase our trust with the public nor does it build credibility for our credential. Public perception of our field is crucial.
If dietitians are to be considered experts in the eyes of the public, it is in our interest to not be associated with companies that manufacture junk food. Soda company logos on our conference tote bags, fast food companies hosting conference lunches, and sugar producers creating educational content have very negative impacts on public perception of dietitians as the leading experts in nutrition.
11. Dietitians are smart and know how to analyze information. So what if the Sugar Association has a booth at our annual conference?
Dietitians are smart and we don’t doubt their ability to interpret science and research. But, the question is: why should we give companies yet another platform to spin science, obfuscate the issues and advertise products that do not promote health? Let’s devote the expo hall floor to companies that truly support the Academy’s mission.
12. I am a member of the Academy and disagree with the current corporate sponsorship model. Should I not renew my dues?
As a diverse group of nutrition professionals working in a wide range of clinical, community, research, and private practice settings, we do not have an official position. Some of Dietitians for Professional Integrity’s co-founders are active members of the Academy, while others renounced their memberships years ago.
Many of us belong to — and/or hold office in — Dietetic Practice Groups (DPGs) that reflect our professional interests; one can not join a DPG without being a member of the Academy. We also understand that protesting with one’s wallet by not paying member dues also sends a very powerful message.
Our main goal at the moment is to give a public and united voice to a coalition of like-minded dietetics professionals who want more transparency and professionalism from their professional organization, regardless of membership status. No matter what your membership status, we encourage you to speak out and voice your concerns.