Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Guest Post: Will the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Stand up for its Members?

Photo by Andy Bellatti, taken at the exhibit hall of the 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics FNCE conference
Today's guest posting comes from my friend Andy Bellatti, MS, RD. Andy is a Las Vegas-based registered dietitian with a plant-centric and whole-food focus. His work has been published in Grist, The Huffington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Food Safety News, and Civil Eats, among others. He is as passionate about healthful eating as he is about food politics, deceptive Big Food marketing, and issues of sustainability, animal welfare, and social justice in our food system. He is the creator of the Small Bites blog (which, though now closed, spans five years and 2,000 posts). You can also follow Andy on Twitter and Facebook.

Andy was one of the resources author Michele Simon utilized in the creation of her report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and I invited him to write a guest post covering the response he'd seen to Michele's report. Here's that post:
Michele Simon’s hard-hitting report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ corporate sponsorship was released last month. National media coverage (see articles in The New York Times, Civil Eats, Grist, and AlterNet) and online buzz soon followed.

Many registered dietitians on social media expressed their support of Simon’s report, as well as their ongoing disappointment with the Academy’s troublesome corporate partnerships. Perhaps more importantly, some RDs stated they were unaware of the insidious implications of such partnerships (many are now considering not renewing their memberships).

As the roar of RDs saying their own organization is diminishing their credential grew louder each day, support for the Academy was minimal; the only evidence of support came by way of an #IStandWithAND Twitter hashtag that consisted mainly of a handful of Academy spokespeople and gained little traction. Many dietitians who have previously spoken out in favor of the Academy were conspicuously absent from the conversation.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics crafted its own response in the form of a letter to RDs that read more like a media statement (and only appeared on the AND website, as opposed to actually being sent to members), penned by president Ethan Bergman and titled “Facts, Opinion and Speculation: Know the Difference as We Inform the Public”. Bergman’s tone-deafness came through loud and clear when he stated, “for the record, I support the Academy’s sponsorship program, as does the Board of Directors and our members.” It is galling – and inaccurate – for Bergman to say all member RDs support the program, when many have expressed their dissent with the organization’s corporate ties for years.

The letter is peppered with vague accusations (such as “factual inaccuracies” in Simon’s report, which are not identified), irrelevant tangents (a reminder to Academy Spokespeople about the importance of disseminating accurate information to the public), and feeble critiques (such as how many of Simon’s references are to the Academy’s own website ).

In short, Mr. Bergman’s response completely avoids any of the issues raised in Michele Simon’s report and, even worse, makes the categorically false claim that all RDs are in favor of the current sponsorship program. What about an independent survey of registered dietitians showing that more than half do not support AND’s ties to Mars and Coca-Cola? Bergman makes no mention of it, instead citing another survey the Academy conducted that concluded dietitians are apparently A-OK being sponsored by Big Food.

This report has clearly been a public relations blemish on the Academy’s reputation – one they would be happy to sweep under the rug. It seems that Simon’s report is already having repercussions. Several RDs are forming a coalition to continue raising these concerns publicly, sharing the statements of current and former Academy members who feel misrepresented by their organization’s corporate ties. Although some groups of RDs within the Academy have been addressing this issue for years and gaining ground, additional outside public pressure is needed to wake the Academy up from its Coca-Cola sponsored slumber.

Please join me for a Twitter chat on this issue this Wednesday (tomorrow) at 9 PM Eastern/6 PM Pacific. Whether you are a dietitian or not, please add your voice to those who demand professional integrity from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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  1. Anonymous9:59 am

    As a member of AND I think comments from both sides should be heard more clearly and accurately. Although the food industry does contribute to the nation's health problems, should we just fight against them or maybe try to work together to find common ground? It might be smarter to work together...those large companies have endless funding and ties in gov that can be hard to overcome. Working together will be much more successful than continually arguing.

  2. Corporate ties with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are the tip of the iceberg. Take a close look at the International Food Information Council Foundation, a corporation-funded educational machine designed to guarantee that dietetics doctrines will continue to favor corporate interests. www.drjaywortman.com/blog/wordpress/2012/06/14/this-is-how-it-works/

  3. Anonymous: What does working together with the likes of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo look like for you? How do such partnerships benefit RDs? Why does funding have to mean that AND/RDs have to compromise their values?

    David Brown: Michele Simon mentions IFIC quite a bit in her report, and gives examples of their "science-based" presentations on pesticides and additives.

  4. Rebecca1:07 pm

    I think this report is over due and I really hope it spurs similar movements with DC (Dietitians of Canada) here in Canada. The report is causing huge shake ups in the Dietitian's Association of Australia and I hope it does here too. I do not find links to food as acceptable as a RD and member of DC.

  5. Personally, I am not against corporate sponsors that align with the mission of the Academy. My biggest concern is the unfettered access the food industry gets to Academy members and the infiltration of "evidence based" and "science based" education/continuing education credits they peddle. Their presence at the national conference is also immense and overwhelming. It feels like an industry trade show as opposed to the educational, strategic planning and critical thinking opportunity it could be to move the mission of the organization. Time to clean house.

  6. Well put, Ashley. To clarify, I am not against all sponsorship, but rather current corporate partnerships that do not in any way reflect the Academy's mission to improve the health of Americans.

  7. Anonymous10:21 am

    Fifteen years ago when I began studying for my degree in nutrition and food science, I expected to learn a lot more about the science of food and metabolism. Specifically, I fully expected to come away as an expert on food and nutrition. While I had a fantastic metabolism professor who taught us, for example, that fructose is coverted to fat in the liver and the implications of that and that the mantra "milk does a body good" was maybe not so true after all, it became increasingly clear that the accredited dietetics program I was in was much more aligned with making Big Food happy. Everywhere else, we were told over and over that "All Foods Can Fit" and it seemed we were redirected away from food and toward building programs and messages that promote the insidious messages fed to us by the food industry.

    Imagine my shock during my school foodservice rotation to see Taco Bell and Pizza Hut had set up shop on a local high school campus. The foodservice director, an RD, saw no problem with this and raved about how much money her program was making for the district. "Besides, the kids already eat this stuff when they're not at school and will leave campus to get it if we don't offer it here." Ugh! I came away so dissillusioned by the field of dietetics.

    I received my RD and have made a successful career for myself in the field, but it does not include membership to AND. If we really are to be the nutrition experts, then we need access to unbiased interpretation of the literature that we can in turn feel confident in relaying to our patients. I used to tell patients what I was taught in school - that, of course, sugar doesn't cause diabetes. Now, I'm not so sure.

  8. I know this is the old post and everything,but stuff like this happen everywhere ;)