A new report by Michele Simon, a lawyer specializing in the food industry, criticizes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) for allowing corporate sponsorships of its organization.
Among Simon’s findings: paid sponsors of the Academy – the trade group for some 74,0000 dieticians – tripled between 2001 and 2011, with nearly a quarter of the speakers at its annual meeting having undisclosed financial ties to the food industry.
The report has set off alarm bells in the healthy living blogosphere. Among the most alarming results, pointed out Well and Good NYC’s Lisa Elaine Held, were that AND’s most loyal sponsors were some of the largest junk food producers, and that companies AND has approved as continuing-education providers include a soda company that sponsored an education session teaching that aspartame is completely safe and another that sugar has no impact on the behavior of children.
The web advocacy media outlet AlterNet interviewed registered dieticians and former Academy members that referred to AND as “a major pay-for-play scheme that provides junk food manufacturers endless opportunities to influence registered dieticians.” Simon told AlterNet that she decided to produce the report after hearing for years from dieticians about the food industry’s presence at the annual conference. She took action after attending consecutive conferences – the last (in 2012) which included a field trip to Hershey, Pa., to learn about the health benefits of chocolate. According to Well and Good NYC, at the same meeting lobbyists for high-fructose corn syrup sponsored three sessions, and the “Kid’s Eat Right Breakfast Series” was co-sponsored by a soda company and a company that makes sugared cereal.
In her report, Simon notes that the Academy does have some guidelines for sponsorship, though “they appeared to be violated.” For instance, sponsors are not supposed to promote specific products. However, a continuing education webinar on building bone health sponsored by one company pictured its own products alongside calcium supplements and milk; calcium-rich vegetables like spinach were noticeably absent.
The New York Times reports that the academy is conducting a survey among some members to gauge their opinions about corporate sponsorship. Meanwhile, it noted, some dieticians are dropping their memberships, concerned that by taking money from corporate sponsors, they will seem to be partners with food companies.
Should trade groups be able to take any corporate sponsorship at all? Where should the guidelines fall? Weigh in.