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The Food Ties That Bind: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2013 Conference

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Last month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics held its annual conference (The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, also known as FNCE) in Houston, Texas. This week, Dietitians for Professional Integrity -- an advocacy group co-founded by 14 dietitians that advocates for the Academy to cut its ties to its Big Food partners and sponsors -- released "The Food Ties That Bind," a report that details the messaging Big Food shared with dietitians at 2013 FNCE.

The report highlights some of the educational materials provided by the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg's, and General Mills at the conference, including:

  • Coca-Cola's "Balancing Act" pamphlet, which emphasizes "energy balance," and recommends burning 100 calories by gardening for 19 minutes, playing soccer for 13 minutes, or climbing stairs for 10 minutes. The pamphlet also reminds readers that soda and juice can all help meet hydration needs.
  • ConAgra's oil comparison chart, which argues that the company's Mazola "heart-healthy" corn oil is superior to olive oil due to the presence of phytosterols. Conveniently, this handout does not compare the amount of healthful monounsaturated fats in corn and olive oil, which would make olive oil the clear winner. Among the "added benefits" of corn oil listed in this handout: "naturally cholesterol-free" (as are all plant foods) and "contains vitamin E" (as all nut and seed oils do).
  • Kellogg's "Comply and Satisfy" booklet for school administrators, which promotes Eggo waffles, multigrain Frosted Flakes, Cheez-Its, and Pop-Tarts as examples of "good nutrition and simple grains."
  • McDonald's "Enjoy Eating the Food Groups at McDonald's" handout, which highlights the premium chicken sandwich's bun as half a serving of whole gains (never mind the 1,410 milligrams of sodium in the crispy premium chicken sandwich), and a Canadian-Style Bacon Egg McMuffin as an example of "protein" (that Egg McMuffin is cooked in partially hydrogenated oils).
  • PepsiCo's "Sodium Content of Commonly Consumed Snack Foods", which makes Frito-Lay's chip offerings seem like the best snack choices (in comparison to large muffins, beef jerky, pretzels, bagels and cheese). Conveniently, other common snack foods that would make chips pale in comparison -- like fresh fruit, nuts and seeds -- are missing.

The report also covers a much-anticipated point-counterpoint debate planned by the Academy that was supposed to touch on the issue of partnerships between the private and public sectors, but instead had one speaker staunchly defend GMOs, mock those who care about organics and sustainability, and claim that blaming Big Food and Big Ag for society's ills was akin to blaming the Wright Brothers for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

DFPI additionally lists its current "asks" to the Academy as they continue to engage in dialogue on this issue (including greater financial transparency and revisiting a survey by the Academy's Hunger and Environmental Dietetic Practice group which showed that dietitians considered Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Mars to be "unacceptable" sponsors), and suggests ways the Academy can improve FNCE and weaken Big Food's vice grip over the annual event.

The report can be downloaded here. A photo gallery of 2013 FNCE is also available.

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