You may or may not have heard the latest scandal on the nutrition scene, which has garnered mass attention from the media, including Jon Stewart (click here): the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the professional organization for registered dietitians of which I am a student member, has allowed Kraft Singles to bear the logo for its “Kids Eat Right” campaign for better child nutrition.
If you’ve read my blog before, particularly this post, you know that I take serious issue with the corporate sponsorship policies of AND and the huge amount of influence that corporate money has on public health in general. Wonderfully though, the advent of this Kraft fiasco has brought so much attention to the issue that more dietitians are aware and complaining than ever before that AND’s choices in this regard are misrepresenting them; it’s started a social media campaign with the hashtag #repealtheseal. The next meeting of AND’s House of Delegates will apparently include a discussion of corporate sponsorship policy. In fact, I received an email from the student representative of the House of Delegates asking for students’ opinions on the matter. The following is my reply:
Thank you for asking for students to voice their opinions in anticipation of the HOD meeting. I have been against AND’s current sponsorship model for a while now, and I am glad that the seal on Kraft Singles has brought so much attention to this issue. In my view, it is impossible for the Academy to promote the best evidence-based nutrition and dietetics practice with health as its goal while being primarily financially supported by corporations whose goal is to increase return on investments. The Academy claims that sponsors don’t have undue influence on its activities, but it seems highly unlikely to me that any sponsor would continue giving financial support if the Academy ever took a position that clearly conflicted with the sponsor’s bottom line. Furthermore, it totally discredits the Academy and its members to be partnered with the companies that produce many of the products that are the most closely linked with the obesity epidemic. Whether or not the Academy is technically endorsing particular products, these sponsorships give the public the impression that this organization of dietitians could potentially prioritize corporate interests over public health. Take this whole Kraft scandal, for instance–AND claims that the seal is meant to be an advertisement for Kids Eat Right, yet Kraft paid to be able to use it. There are seemingly no criteria to meet to be allowed to bear the Kids Eat Right seal, which further discredits AND’s commitment to evidence-based nutrition. In terms of public relations, these sponsorships only seem to be benefiting the sponsors who can claim they are partnering with health professionals to promote better nutrition, and more and more this practice is coming to light as a corrupt marketing tactic. I personally would not mind paying higher dues if it meant that the Academy’s activities did not depend on corporate dollars, and there are organizations of health professionals who have completely eliminated corporate sponsorships and still have reasonable dues, like the American Public Health Association.
I fervently hope that this is another sign of the tide beginning to turn towards food and health policy that is oriented towards health of people, animals, and the planet, as opposed to the interests of “Big Food.”