Monday, September 26, 2011

Crazy RD tweets from 2011 American Dietetic Association #FNCE conference?

I'm a Twitter junkie and this weekend I've been on Twitter overload no thanks to the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (hashtag #FNCE).

Something I'm really struck by.

The number of Tweets from RDs that are promoting a particular processed food product.

In just one hour worth of #FNCE lunch hour Tweets, I've seen RDs shilling:

- Jimmy Dean Sausages
- I Can't Believe it's Not Butter
- Craisins
- McDonald's
- Sun Chips
- Sugar sweetened breakfast cereals
- Welch's Grape Juice
- California Almond Trail Mix
- Dietz and Watson Deli Meats
- Dietz and Watson Hot Dogs
- Brummel and Brown Spread

And to be fair, there were also tweets promoting a few whole, unadulterated, foods including:

- Fresh Figs
- Avocados
- Pistachios

There were also plenty more tweets that didn't feature any product or food at all, but I want to go back to the products.

Now I'm definitely not an RD. I mean that in a very real and meaningful way and not in a snarky one. Most of the RDs I've met have far broader nutritional knowledge bases than me, and go figure, they spent a great deal of time studying nutrition.

That said, and keeping my admittedly more meager knowledge base in mind, wouldn't the nation be healthier with a return to cooking? Where processed products that make life "easier" are actively discouraged? Where hot dogs, Sun Chips, Craisins (with 3x the sugar and calories of raisins due to the fact they're sugar sweetened), Jimmy Dean sausages and grape juice were foods RDs went out of their way to steer folks around rather than give tweeted shout outs?

RDs? Thoughts?

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  1. Thanks for posting about the tweets- very interesting! I'm an RD, and it is for this very reason that I don't go to FNCE and shy away from most ADA functions. The corporate sponsorships are often from companies selling highly processed foods (even Coke and Pepsi are sponsors...). And I nearly fell of my chair when I was reading the brochure for last year's California Dietetic Association meeting and saw that McDonalds was sponsoring the lunch. Avocados and pistachios, sure. McDonalds? Hard to justify the connection there.

  2. J Slater8:06 am

    oh yeah - this is such a contradiction within our profession. "All foods can fit" - right??!! We speak out of both sides of our mouth and wonder why our credibility rating is so low. The come-back when we ask why the dietetic associations accept so much corporate money is "well, do you want your annual fees to go up?"

  3. What is wrong with grape juice? I usually recommend to dilute all juice though. We also know that people will eat these types of foods and there are some that are healthier than others. It is like trying to get an individual to skim milk - you don't recommend whole milk straight to skim milk. You change to 2% - then to 1% and so on.

    That aside, the most (not on twitter) is the name change for the ADA (for which I quit 2 years ago after over 30 years as a member) - now AND - Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  4. I'm not an RD, but in an MS program to eventually become one, so I'll pretend like this is my profession for now. I'm all for RDs promoting healthy foods and brands, but I think those are woefully few & far between. If it's not a conflict of interest outright, it is at least a massive disservice to the people we're supposed to be helping to be schilling nitrate-laden processed meats, nutrient-deficient white-flour-pressed-into-amusing shapes, and so forth.

    To your point that RDs have studied nutrition hard, in depth & at length, that's precisely the reason they should (do!) know better. Honestly, though, clinical RD compensation is terrible - starting pay is barely above what I pay our babysitter per hour. The result? RDs flock to where the money is, and IndustriFood Inc has plenty of it, unfortunately.

    If/when I'm an RD, will I sign on as a brand ambassador? Yes, but only for whole foods, minimally processed foods, products not pumped full of unnecessary nutrients, and brands that aren't marketing Sugar Bombs XTreem Crunch to 2 year olds.

  5. Keep in mind "natural" and organic does not mean "healthy". Take Annies organic macaroni and cheese for example. Still uses refined flour and high in salt.

    An RD will know that a person is going to go to McDonalds but will try to find the "best" food choice.

    I know as a Frugal Dietitian I know people are going to buy food items they can get cheap (free) and not healthy. I try to find ways to make it healthier. For example adding wheat germ and chopped walnuts to a mix. I give out a recipe for black bean brownies with some added wheat germ.

    A good RD has to keep an open mind and willing to look at the whole diet not each little piece especially when special diets are required. Which is why RDs are the best to give nutrition advice.

  6. I wonder why there is so much effort to identify individual foods or food locations as acceptable or well as the need to denigrate any source that doesn't meet some arbitrary mark.

    I have a few questions for people who have such strong feelings about this: Where do you shop? Where do you go out to eat? Do you avoid every food venue that sells product that you don't approve of?

    Even my local food coop and farmer's markets sell food that is "processed", added sugars, sodium, and fat, as well as . Do yoularge portions. Do you grow and cook all your own?

    I may not like everything I see, but I often learn more from communicating with people I disagree with than from people who think just like I do.

    Yoni, do you find MD's avoiding medical conferences with pharmaceutical reps and sponsorships that they don't think are appropriate?

  7. Bonnie, once again I think it would help readers a great deal for you to identify the fact you're an RD who includes McDonald's on her consultancy list.

    Not because that makes you evil, but rather it puts your questions in a context that I think is helpful.

    My point is exceedingly straightforward. I believe that reliance on foods we don't cook ourselves (restaurants and boxes alike) is one of the primary drivers of chronic disease in society today.

    RDs who are tweeting about product X or Z are tweeting to clients and the public and consequently are endorsing and promoting a pattern of eating I believe is one we should discourage, not encourage.

  8. To the point about disclosure, here are mind: I'm a freelance market research consultant for pharmaceutical companies currently; I have received product samples to review on my blog from Peeled Snacks & Attune Foods.

  9. Bonnie says, "I wonder why there is so much effort to identify individual foods or food locations as acceptable or not..."

    Ummm, because we are facing many medical crisis; diabetes, obesity, chronic illness, etc. Today's children are learning TERRIBLE habits, and if you've ever seen an 60+lb toddler struggling to walk, you would know the answer to your own question; if you knew of a 24 year old who died from a heart attack because of lifestyle choices, you would know the answer to your own question; if your child went to school with a diabetic who feeds herself "diet" everything with artificial sweeteners everyday, you would know the answer to your own question. Parents are the ones to be teaching these habits (someone needs to teach the parents) so I guess some of us need to get LOUD about what constitutes "healthy" food and McD's(and such) does not (as far as I am concerned) make the grade.

  10. But Yarni - isn't that what you are essentially doing with gastric bypass surgery. Giving people a way out. I had a client who was trying to gain weight so as to qualify for bypass (until they told her she had to see an RD). She had no intentions of trying to lose weight.

  11. Um...I'm not a surgeon.

    And no, it's not a way out.

    It's a therapeutic option. One that's been proven to be reproducibly better than every lifestyle based intervention out there.

    Furthermore, it requires the same attention to diet and lifestyle post surgically as would presurgical lifestyle losses so to suggest that it's an easy "way out" is simply not true.

  12. I know you aren't doing the "cutting" but why attack RDs? You need to look at the entire picture of what an RD actually does when counseling clients. Just as I would look at your counseling before an individual chooses bypass surgery.

  13. Interesting.

    Clearly "attack" is in the eye of the beholder.

    Oh, and your question about grape juice. I forgot to answer you.

    Do you honestly think a smattering of vitamins, absent the fibre and phytonutrients of grapes, along with 10 teaspoons of sugar per cup is a healthy drink?

  14. YES!! Diluted grape juice as opposed to soda. Some grape juice to flavor water as opposed to energy drinks. YES!! Depends on what it is replacing. Do I recommend grapes over grape juice of course. Just as I recommend grapes over raisins.

    Grape juice over wine, especially women YES!!!

  15. Plus at the end of the day, reading your blog, we are in more agreement than what we want to admit :-)

  16. Anonymous2:43 pm

    Companies hire RDs to focus on the more nutritious offerings of their choices. A dietitian employed by McDonalds is focused on research/development of the healthier menu options. Same with RDs working for Kelloggs, they aren't recommending Cocoa Puffs but are involved in research and promotion of products such as the All Bran Buds. That being said, it is very difficult not to get compromised by pressure from your company.

  17. Totally agree with the doc: return to cooking! See my blog posting last week: Bring Back Home Ec. A nation that doesn't cook is a nation that is defenseless... I'm waiting for some cooking tweets and hope to see them. Chose to attend Food as Medicine this year!

  18. I'm a dietitian and my organization does accept sponsorship money. There is my disclosure. I will say, we're pretty discerning about who we do accept money from and I believe our sponsors appreciate that. They "get" that their reputation does ride on who they associate with.

    We recently launched a new research institute which has been set up so that all donors have a voice, but the size of that voice is in no way associated with the size of any donation they make.

    We've also already said "no" to some organizations that wanted to donate but which we felt had incompatible missions. Despite the fact that we're brand new, and we've set some pretty ambitious standards, we raised over $3000 at our first fundraiser.

    Which goes to show that there IS intelligent money out there. And judging by the fact that new sponsors are finding their way to us without our seeking them's looking like intelligent money attracts intelligent money.

    We'll never be all things to all people and I'm sure there are people reading this who will find flaws in our model.

    But I do know, I look at myself in the mirror every night and like what I see. And sound sleep is never a problem. I don't ever have to explain why McDonald's is on my website, which probably explains that to a large degree.

    That started when I stopped viewing ADA/AND/whatever as a place where I could do high-integrity business.

  19. Amen. For heavens sake people, eat at home. Eat real food.

  20. Disclosure: I am a clinical/acute care dietitian who also does contract work for a private consulting company on the media side of things (i.e. I don't do any one-on-one consulting). I haven't promoted any products before.

    I pride myself on being a from-scratch cook as much as I can, but when I look around at other people's shopping carts I see so many people loading up on processed products! My brother raves about his girlfriend's "cooking", which generally consists of putting some frozen, pre-marinated chicken wings or meatballs into the oven. Occasionally there are overcooked veggies involved.

    My point is, as much as (I would hope) all dietitians would love to promote from-scratch cooking all the time, the worry is that people will think we're "out of touch". I think dietitians get involved with industry hoping that we can at least change the convenience foods out there, but obviously any changes that are happening are small.

    My compromise? I wouldn't actively promote any processed products unless I truly believe in them (I haven't yet, but I can think of a few brands that I can get behind). I think it's important to recognize that people eat out or eat convenience foods, but it's important to say plainly that cooking at home from scratch is the best.

    Sadly, this is not something that can happen overnight. I believe that lots of things in our society has to change (our workload, our expectation of our productivity, our value on health, food, family) before we can see people starting to cook again and a change in the direction of the obesity crisis.

  21. Yoni I'm a dietetic intern who takes as much issue as you do (perhaps more even!)with the increasingly close relationships some dietitians are forming with industry and worry constantly about the ramifications such partnerships have on our profession's integrity and credibility (not to mention the contribution it makes to the already convoluted domain of nutritional advice and information). I think it's important to voice these criticisms in the appropriate forum but I'm concerned that this blog may not be the best outlet in that I think it has the effect of demeriting RD's uniformly. Though our channels may be more austere (and therefor less visible), there are many dietitians who work hard to distance themselves from industry influence and to carry out their work objectively. I suppose my concern is that your readers will give less merit to all dietitians on account of the questionable behaviour of few rather than recognizing the enormous heterogeneity within the profession, thereby discrediting those of us advocating for the same things you are! I'm not an advocate of censorship however, but just thought I'd point out a possible consequence of your comments. Truth be told I hope these criticisms become a catalyst for change within our field!

  22. Anonymous3:17 am

    ADA has a lot of connections with industry, so it's not surprising they are promoting some of these products. It is, sadly, a huge insult to many RDs. It's a bit of a shame to be associated with our own credentialing agency.

  23. Anonymous7:52 am

    I'm an RD and I tell people "Don't eat at McDonald's...go there as little as possible,". I don't paint it as a 'healthy option' ever, at all, in any way shape or form. I think it's junk food and only leads to junk results. Hard core? Fine. I don't mind being the zealot here. I have done long road trips and vacations, have worked long hours and still don't find myself needing to resort to fast food. It's not that hard to avoid it. It can be very hard for an RD who does not believe in fast food as a 'healthy alternative' to realize that the American Dietetic Association is walking arm-in-arm with fast food giants these days. We are supposed to 'accept' that 'this is part of people's lifestyles nowadays'. Ok, how about we DON'T accept it? How about we speak the truth? That the 'healthier' salads are sad little lumps of nutritionally-bereft iceberg and anemic tomatoes? How about the 'healthier' oatmeal cookies are still full of sugar and the yogurt parfaits literaly oozing with high fructose corn syrup? Anyone who truly wants to practice with integrity knows the truth. My good friend asked me, "Why did the nutritionist in the hospital I was at tell me it's Ok for me, a diabetic, to drink a coke from time to time? That's ridiculous," Coca Cola and other fast food pushers are joined up with the ADA NOT because they want to help the public make healthier choices but because they want to try and un-do the damage that real science has done to their business. I've been to conferences where McD's and others like them have served up the lunch or breakfast. It's not healthy. Let's stop pretending it is. It's NOT healthy food. I no longer belong to the ADA for this reason and think it's sad when other RD's decide to justify promoting fast food as an 'option'.

  24. I am a dietitian and I don't eat at McDonald's. I also don't drink soda. I might eat chips once in a great while. But I mostly eat fresh, home cooked foods or healthier restaurant options. I shop the perimeters of the supermarket for fresh produce. I think diet drinks should be extremely limited because we really don't know how good or bad or benign they are in large quantities. I believe in eating when your hungry, not for entertainment. I think we eat too much sugar and too many processed foods. I think going vegan a couple of days per week is a good compromise and a way to creatively try new fruit, vegetable, bean and legumes dishes. I feel very strange at conferences where I see ads for Colas, McD's and other processed foods. I have not been a member of the ADA/AND for quite a few years now.