The largest trade group of nutrition professionals -- the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics -- has a serious credibility problem.
The Academy represents 74,000 dietitians in the United States, and its mission is to promote optimal nutrition and well-being for all people. But according to an explosive report released by Michele Simon and her organization, the industry watchdog Eat Drink Politics, the Academy is sponsored by folks like ConAgra, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Kellogg's, Mars, and the National Dairy Council.
According to the report, Academy sponsors can become an "Academy Partner," which entitles them to "educate" nutrition professionals about the health benefits of their products, co-sponsor events, and conduct educational sessions at meetings. They also can use the Academy's logo in marketing campaigns.
The report from Eat Drink Politics details how registered dietitians can earn continuing education units from Coca-Cola, in which they learn that sugar is not a problem for children. In addition to Coca-Cola, companies on the Academy's list of approved continuing education providers include Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and PepsiCo.
Despite its enormous clout and its nutritional advocacy mission, the Academy has thus far refused to endorse some of the steps that many experts agree could improve public health and expand health freedom, including limits on soft drink sizes, taxes on sugary sodas, or the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Could there be any connection between the millions of dollars in sponsorship the Academy receives from junk food manufacturers, and a seeming lack of initiative on behalf of the public welfare?
Fortunately, not all dietitians pass on the propaganda of the Academy's sponsors. There are many hardworking and dedicated dietitians who base the guidance they offer their clients on the latest learnings of nutritional science. One of the inspiring dietitians of our times is bestselling author and plant-strong nutrition expert Brenda Davis, RD.
Brenda notes that many dietitians feel uncomfortable having their trade association intertwined with the processed food industry, and references a survey that found that 80 percent of them feel that the Academy is endorsing corporate sponsors and their products when it allows their sponsorship.
It's time for us to base the nutritional guidance we offer, and the policies we support, on what we know is best for the health and wellness of a population that is riddled with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The science is clear: a whole foods, plant-strong diet that is low in sugar and processed foods, and high in nutrients and fresh foods, can help you thrive, and can dramatically reduce your risk of diet and lifestyle-induced diseases.
Inspired by Michele Simon's report, and fed up with their association's junk food ties, on February 12 a group of dietitians launched Dietitians for Professional Integrity. Their goal is to advocate for more ethical, socially responsible, and relevant corporate sponsorships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. More than 500 members joined in the first two days.
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Ocean Robbins serves as adjunct professor at Chapman University and as CEO and co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) of the 85,000 member Food Revolution Network.
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