Monday, May 05, 2008

Dietitians of Canada Officially, Formally and Happily Sell Out

According to their vision statement, the Dietitians of Canada purports itself to be,

"the voice of the profession"
I think they forgot to mention they're also quite comfortable being the mouthpiece of Big Food.

While I recognize that physician groups aren't immune from conflict of interest (primarily stemming from Big Pharma), I know as a physician I'd be fairly uncomfortable to land on the Canadian Medical Association's website and find advertising there from drug companies.

Imagine my surprise when learning that the "Members only" section of the Dietitians of Canada (DoC) website does in fact have Big Food advertisements as evidenced in the screen captures below (click them to open them in a large window) where the first shills for President's Choice Blue Menu products and the second for eggs:

Apparently if you keep refreshing the page, new ads pop up.

But let's put internet advertising aside, we can chalk that up to poor judgment, (UPDATE - Poor judgment shared by the Canadian Medical Association where I also found some internet drug ads) I mean after all, it's not like it's a clinical practice guideline or a resource manual for the profession.

Ummmm, about the DoC professional resource manuals....

After a bit more sniffing on their website I came across this link to the Dietitians of Canada 2001 National Nutrition Month Resource Manual for Dietitians (I realize it's 2008, but this is still featured prominently on the DoC website and is one of many Fact Sheets explicitly endorsed and implicitly steered by Big Food).

Read through it and you'll find it was sponsored (paid for) by the Canadian Sugar Institute, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, the Dairy Bureau of Canada and Kraft. Ominously the Canadian Sugar Institute was referred to as an "internal sponsor" while eggs, dairy and Kraft were merely, "official sponsors".

Think the sponsors were just silent spectators?

Then how come there's giant pictures of dairy products throughout; 3 pages on encouraging Canadians to drink more milk (replete with a section on getting the lactose intolerants to drink milk too); and two pages devoted to encouraging Canadians to eat more eggs?

There's also messaging that sugar is a carbohydrate just like fruit and this great quobesity,
"With the exception of dental caries, there is no evidence to show that sugar causes health problems. There is no specific limit or recommendation to reduce the amount of sugar we are currently eating."
Did the Dietitians of Canada really just steer their members as the "voice of their profession" to educate the public that sugar doesn't contribute to health problems and that you can eat as much of it as you want and not worry?

Looking at the 2008 Nutrition Month page that details some information about sponsors, DoC spells out who'll they'll happily take money from:
"Food products and Manufacturers", "Food Retailers".
No real limitations there either - basically if you makes or sell a food that can conceivably fit in Canada's Food Guide, you're welcome to play.

Marion Nestle, world-renowned nutrition expert (don't believe me, click here and check out her rather ridiculous C.V.) on her wonderful blog What to Eat details the equivalent practice within the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Here's a recent excerpt with her call to action for her fellow ADA members (feel free to mentally swap DoC for ADA),
"Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours. Consider the ADA’s Nutrition Fact Sheets, for example, each with its very own corporate sponsor (scroll down to the lower right hand corner of the second page to see who paid for the Facts). Is the goal of ADA really the same as the goal of the sponsors–to sell the sponsor’s food products? Is this a good way to get important scientific messages to the public? ADA members: how about doing something about this!"
Now I know that I have many Canadian readers who are registered dietitians. What do you think about the involvement of the food industry with DoC?

[Hat tip to a concerned dietitian who threw the screen caps my way]