Home Health and Health Care When Everyone’s Bought and Paid For, Who Do You Trust?

When Everyone’s Bought and Paid For, Who Do You Trust?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’m trying to get in the habit of keeping my posts short, sweet and succinct.

I fail at this often. Sorry, y’all.

Let me get right into it:

A new report by a public health advocate criticizes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a trade group presenting some 74,000 dietitians, for allowing corporate sponsorships of its organization.

The expo area of an actual food and nutrition conference.

The expo area of an actual food and nutrition conference.

The report, by Michele Simon, a lawyer who specializes in legal issues involving the food industry, raises questions about the role big food companies play in the continuing education of the nation’s nutrition experts and the ability of the group to challenge the industry on matters of health and nutrition.

Among her findings were that the number of food companies and trade groups that are paid sponsors of the academy more than tripled between 2001 and 2011 — to 38, from 10 — and that roughly 23 percent of about 300 speakers at its annual meeting had undisclosed financial ties to the food industry.

Ryan O’Malley, a spokesman for the academy, said the organization could not comment without seeing the report, which was to be published on Ms. Simon’s Web site late Tuesday.

ConAgra, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Aramark, Mars and the National Dairy Council are among the organization’s major sponsors.

Some sponsors become an “Academy Partner,” which entitles them to educate nutrition professionals about the health benefits of their products, co-sponsor events and conduct educational sessions at meetings. They also can use the academy’s logo in marketing campaigns. [source]

The report, linked above… is intense. I’ve spent the entire morning looking at all (excuse me, trying to look at) 51 pages (!) of it, but it is serious. And, though I’m not an RD (…yet?), I keep up with what’s going on with the AND and its various conferences because, quite frankly, I want to know.

The bold quote, however, is special. You can pay a certain amount in order to be a “partner,” and be entitled to “educate nutrition professionals.”

In other words, “Pay us, as an Academy, in order to have access to the tens of thousands of people who trust us to help provide them with valuable information.”

Why should it be any surprise that an academy that puts on major conferences would take money from billionaire multinational organizations to subsidize the cost for its attendees? But, most importantly, are we even trying to fool ourselves about the content of these “educational sessions?” For example, the report contains a table of continuing education sessions that appeared on the website for the “Coca Cola Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness.” In this table, one will find the following phrases, as key points in the sessions:

The list of panels littered throughout Simon’s report are… listen. I cannot tell you how frustrating this is.

  • Diabetes in a New Light: Diabetes Friendly Fare with Flavor; Presented by Premier Sponsor Novo Nordisk with TV chef personality Paula Deen

Let the record show that I’ve made my feelings quite clear about Paula Deen.

Okay. Going on.

The deeper details of the reports are exceptionally hard to digest. Countless food-research-related organizations contain boards of trustees representing everyone from Monsanto to – you guessed it – Coca-Cola. The only successful efforts they’ve accomplished (and, by successful, I mean done, period) are to do everything they could to manipulate our understanding of what we consider dangerous today. “Associations” banding together and passing off their marketing propaganda as science.

The report also features quotes of tweets and other commentary from the most recent AND conferences:

A session on children and beverages titled “Kids Are Drinking What?” was essentially an hour-long advertisement for milk. The dairy reps acknowledged how they target African-American and Hispanic communities with a “drink more milk” message, which I found particularly disturbing as both ethnic groups have high rates of lactose intolerance…Even more disturbing was all the hand-wringing over children’s high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as if the dairy council really cares about kids’ health. This alleged concern disappeared when I asked about the added sugar in chocolate milk. The panelists’ – all of whom were employed by the National Dairy Council — answer was that chocolate milk is a “nutrient-dense” beverage.

(And, as we now know, it’s not the nutrients that matters as much when it comes to sugar. It’s the fiber. But, okay.)

Encouraging Latinos to purchase increasing amounts of cheese? No thanks.

(Colonialism of dietetics… or something?)

“NO I won’t recommend 3 dairy servings a day to someone who is lactose-intolerant.”

I guess that explains why the NDA was hosting a panel on “how to cook lactose-free.” Jeez.

If this is where your dietician is going to learn the latest and newest information in their trade… if this is the “Academy” responsible for helping keep its members “in the know”… if this is the kind of information we should expect newly-minted registered dieticians to come armed with…

…then what kind of disservice does the academy do its members, if this is what the public can expect to come from dieticians? For them to be giant, walking marketing machines for companies who create some of the most processed, unaffordable foolishness on the market today?

The funny thing about this, is that I’m not entirely certain it’s much more different for any other health professional’s organizations. Though Simon’s report focuses solely on skewering the AND (thus far, I’m only 24 pages in and I already feel like I need a shot of something barrel-aged, damn), certain other associations have been questioned for their associations with certain brands because they’ve been spotted putting certain labels onto certain suspect products. Let’s just say, that if you’re concerned with your heart… you should probably be looking towards the produce section, not a cute little squiggly line on the front of a box.

This also leaves me with questions. Specifically, about a common refrain that I read from actual medical doctors who comment here, share study briefs and research with me, and who consult with me on certain topics. That being said, a comment left on this blog (on a post about the potential reluctance of an overweight doctor to discuss their patients’ sizes) also concerned me:

[…] the other point I wanted to make is that during my four years of medical school very little instruction was given to us about weight loss. We were taught the importance of maintaining a healthy weight in order to prevent disease, but no instruction was given on how to actually accomplish this. Obviously I can’t speak for every doctor or assume this was the case at every medical school in the country, but I wonder if an overweight doctor’s reluctance to speak with patients about weight loss has anything to do with lack of knowledge in regards to medical education. Thinner physicians may be more inclined to encourage patients to lose weight based on their own personal experiences with diet and exercise as opposed to their training. I can say that as a patient, I have been told to lose weight by more than one doctor (both of which were thin), but beyond telling me to exercise and a referral to nutritionist, the advice stopped there.

We’re not even talking about registered dieticians or nutritionists, now. We’re talking about medical doctors.

And, now, I have these questions:

  • If a thinner doctor feels empowered and emotionally-and-intellectually able to tell you to lose weight and how to do it, and its based off of their own personal experiences of how to manage weight… what happens if their experiences are disordered? What if they have disordered habits, and are justified by a) the lack of contradicting evidence in their medical programs or b) the fact that they’ve been able to manage their weight for an extended amount of time?
  • If medical doctors are not being taught anything about nutrition, where are they getting the information from that they share with their patients who desperately trust their insight and good judgment? Trade magazines? The ones full of targeted “marketing propaganda” gussied up as “informative articles?”
  • I’m willing to bet there are at least a few medical schools out there offering some general coverage of obesity, its co-morbidities (I really need to look up the etymology of that word), and weight management. But, if MDs know so little; both about weight management and the role that food plays in both emotional eating, co-morbidities, and the like; then should MDs really be the ones referring people for things like weight loss surgery? I mean, if you know so little about weight management, should you really be saying the only way a person could succeed is to have such an invasive procedure? Are various industries – hCG, bariatric surgeries, weight loss programs and the like – taking advantage of the lack of knowledge that doctors have as a means of pushing their own agendas?

What does this all mean, though? It means that, many trusting people are being turned into pawns accidentally. It means that people are being given really suspect information, and trust it because they trust their trade organizations. It means that people who are genuinely going to their doctors in search of legitimate answers can’t get them. It also means that people who ask for information, get suspect information (“Sure, 3 glasses of milk a day are fine even if you’re lactose intolerant! YOLO on your colon, dawg!”), feel vindicated by their doctors who gave them suspect information validating their bad habits…and then become vehemently opposed to anything of the contrary?

And, really, isn’t that what these industry front groups really want? If a doctor doesn’t have access to the information, how can they be trusted to guide you in the right direction? Nutritionally, or otherwise?

(“Access”….I keep talking about that “access,” but y’all don’t hear me, tho.)

Let me hear it, y’all.

This post was sponsored by the National Association of Broccoli. Just kidding. Pardon me as I go eat my brocc–er…. never mind.

You may also like


Kitana January 29, 2013 - 5:18 PM

This is straight up scary, imo. That’s all I got. I mean, part of me kind of knew this stuff because I follow other parts of politics and references to the food industry comes up but… I feel more enlightened every day regarding the massive lies being fed to us and it’s pretty frightening how much power is consolidated in the hands of a few.

Angel Blanca January 29, 2013 - 9:09 PM

I am SO using this report for my next Critical Thinking course! So much rich material to help students actually see how critical thinking skills are necessary, and how ways to use those skills abound! This is ridiculous!

El January 30, 2013 - 4:16 AM

Welp, this is kind of terrifying. Is it terrible if I want to scream CAPITALISM IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS and run screaming for the door, and a nice, unprocessed orange?

ab January 30, 2013 - 8:22 AM

I don’t know about anyone else, but I like the long articles. Part of the reason we are in this mess is the lack of patience we (in general) have in gathering & processing info. I mean seriously TL: DR (too long didn’t read) is a ridiculous acronym.

I trust no-one or anything anymore, people are not in the system for discovery, most of the discovery has been done, they are in it for profit (fair enough).

Nothing has changed since the dark ages only the rich & the educated (as in knowledgable not book smarts) have access to health which is true wealth.

If companies could get away with it, buy up all the farm land just so they can lock it down and make their products the only thing available.

My outlook is, if its in a box, its been processed and not for my benefit.

christine January 30, 2013 - 1:52 PM

I think it all boils down to common sense! Folks jumping on the next best weight loss program or diet..I mean come on people..drinking green mess 3 times a day..now does that really make sense?? Yeah girl I lost 45 pounds on the (fill in the blank diet) and in 6 weeks you’re bigger than you were. Bottom line..the less you put in your mouth the smaller your behind is gonna be ! Do I like being on the treadmill for an hour..nope..but I do like the results! I could eat pasta 3 times a day, but my knees let me know I better not!

ab January 31, 2013 - 6:18 AM

Common = prevalent, found, done often.
sense = feeling, meaning, sensation, sentiment.

If we take ‘common sense’ for what it means it means most prevalent or often found sentiment. In this society common sense is mostly dispersed by advertising and marketing via an established distribution network.

In the 21st century, eating bad food IS common sense. Eating clean requires a rebellious effort to buck the system + requires help and knowledge. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t or we wouldn’t be here reading this blog.

I started eating clean years ago for budgetary reasons and because I decided to travel the world via my kitchen. And I’m here today, learning even more stuff. This blog is dispensing uncommon knowledge and that’s the real deal.

I was lucky, I spent some years in a country where fresh food was common sense, because it was regarded as a 3rd world country (prevalent knowledge) and it didn’t have as much mechanisation at the time.

You wanted to eat meat, means you bought a live chicken from the market. you either paid the seller to cut it up or you took it home to chop up.

You want beef? You and your neighbours (or friends) put money together to buy a cow raised on grass and delivered to your chosen slaughter house every 2weeks/month.
You want fish? you drive down to the coast saturday morning with your cooler to welcome the fishermen in.

You want orange juice, street hawkers sold fresh oranges street side, they peeled them and put funky designs on them just for you.

Want decent fats? Cashews and peanuts are sold in bottles as a snack

To the Western world in the 90’s these examples were considered barbaric!!. People laughed at me when I told them how I ate.

They aren’t laughing now though.

christine January 31, 2013 - 11:09 AM

“In the 21st century, eating bad food IS common sense. Eating clean requires a rebellious effort to buck the system + requires help and knowledge. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t or we wouldn’t be here reading this blog.”

I think somewhere along the way you have to take responsibility for your own actions. I don’t think eating clean, eat well takes that much effort. Well maybe it does, maybe you’ll have to go to another store to get healthy food. If all you were raised on was fast food, then that’s all you know until you venture out into the world. Guess I’m lucky, I was raised on homemade pasta and pumpkin cookies, kicked outside til the street lites came on lol

Erika Nicole Kendall January 31, 2013 - 12:34 PM

But WHAT actions, though? Be real – if you are the average TV-watching person, you are told that sugary cereals are a healthy way to eat, that “moderation is key” and that you need to work out all day. You think to yourself, “Well if it weren’t true, then the government wouldn’t let it air!”

You think to yourself that moderate intake of what’s cheapest – because, hey, you’re not rich – should be fine, and don’t understand what you’re doing wrong when your weight continues to balloon.

Before you know it, you’re 20lbs heavier and wondering why you can’t clothes shop the way you used to anymore. Before you know it, you’ve developed a sugar habit and goodness help you if you don’t get what you want. You’re miserable.

Eating clean and well doesn’t take effort for YOU, but YOU and YOUR life are not everyone elses, and it’d do us all well to remember that. Hell, we should all be reminded that all it takes is an accidental slip for us to have a giant fall from grace. Some people don’t know what to do with a fresh vegetable. Others of us have all the money in the world, and none of the time. Some of us LOVE to cook, but have no money because, even though the house is paid for and the cars are bought, hubby lost his job and now the savings is how we get by. A little compassion for the differences in experience that people have would be appropriate, here.

christine January 31, 2013 - 4:12 PM

I do have compassion, I was just saying how lucky I was to be raised in that environment, Not everyone was raised in a 2 grandparent household. I was blessed

Erika Nicole Kendall January 31, 2013 - 8:02 PM

Right. You WERE lucky. Lots of others – myself included, I’m sorry to say – were not. We need to keep that in mind when we talk, mama. That’s all.

ab January 31, 2013 - 2:26 PM

oh please, you are changing the goal posts here.
Look, fast food changes everything once your taste buds are attuned to it.

Fast foods are genetically engineered to make you addicted to salt and sugar. The labs are working harder than you can imagine to ensure that you crave that smell, that it appeals to your inner being. I don’t care how far into the world you want to step, it takes a heck of a lot for the body & mind to fight a chemically induced addiction.

And how do you fight it when you don’t know thats what it is.
I mean there are people who hate the taste of water!. Water. that refreshing drink of life. But why wouldn’t they, everything since birth has been telling them that water needs to be enhanced with flavour, sugar is in everything.

When I get caught on the move with no viable food options, I pop into starbucks to order a giant cup of Green or peppermint tea, I’m amazed when i’m asked if I need sugar or milk with it. I mean really?. How do you taste the leaf when you put sugar or milk on it.
But I understand that many other people have no idea about that.
Everything is telling them : NATURE NEEDS ENHANCEMENT.

So yes, I stand by my original statement: In the 21st century, eating clean requires a rebellious effort to buck the system + requires help and knowledge.

And I second Erikah’s sentiment that a little empathy for folks not as luck as us goes a long way to ensuring that we buck the trend.
Because the more people crave and demand certain types of food, the more suppliers begin to adhere to it, even big companies.

Finally, you mentioned the most pertinent thing, you like me, were lucky by accident of birth to be born to parents who had the luxury of cooking & were food ‘literate’. Lucky!.

christine January 31, 2013 - 5:36 PM

lol..I love what you said about water. When people come to my house the already know my tea has no sugar

Rooo February 1, 2013 - 12:29 AM

” So yes, I stand by my original statement: In the 21st century, eating clean requires a rebellious effort to buck the system + requires help and knowledge.
And I second Erika’s sentiment that a little empathy for folks not as luck as us goes a long way to ensuring that we buck the trend.”

All this, really.

I stand with you particularly since there are so many N. American friends of mine who came back from a summer abroad in France or Spain 30 lbs lighter – and put it right back on (and not from eating Cheetos, either!) after they’d been back awhile. That totally jives with what I’ve read, and the conclusions I’ve drawn from what I’ve read, about what substances have been banned abroad that the FDA permits “food” corporations to put in and on what we eat.

And that’s actually why, even though there were a few times I wanted to give Byron Hurt’s documentary a bit of a side-eye, that I’d recommend it without hesitation – because what I remember most about the premiere I attended was that the auditorium was full, and we were having the conversation … and it’s true – not everyone has the time or inclination (or curiosity or suspicious frame of mind, LOL) to read Taubes and Nestle and Erika’s blog and figure out for self. I did what I was told till I was standing in front of a fridge full of Lean Cuisine and was like “I am dog-tired, still hungry, and I just ate two of these things. Something here is NOT QUITE RIGHT” and started to read and read and test everything I’d been taught and told.

kim March 12, 2013 - 9:07 PM

Rooo – I agree with you completely. I think many overweight Americans, have fallen victim to the food industry. I also had a fridge stocked with “low-fat” prcessed foods(frozen dinners, yogurts with artificial dyes and added sugar, low fat chips, etc..).

Tina January 31, 2013 - 12:07 PM

Well…the pharmaceutical machine has owned medical “education” since before our lifetimes. The banks own Washington. As long as people continue to be sheep and eat up whatever they are fed, be it information, medication/vaccination, lab-created/modified “food”, we will keep getting sicker and sicker. Thank heavens for social media and the ability to get good information past (around?) the wholly-owned gatekeeper media….and wise bloggers like you who actually have common sense and a relatable writing style!

kami February 1, 2013 - 9:27 AM

All of this information about eating healthy when your bombarded with confusing messages makes it hard. The big corporations are messing with our food and has made the people of this country think that processed foods are cheaper than clean eating. People think that a box of lucky charms is a healthier alternative than ackee and 4oz pc of fish in the morning. I been to many dietitians and doctors that pushed dairy and diet soda ( stevia and ethyritol), no carbs, no fruits, agave nectar, high meat, high cardio and low fats diet in the past. Since December I am now a happy vegetarian doing hot yoga and started clean eating with no agave nectar. My only sweeteners are vegan sugar, maple syrup or honey and I rarely use that. Fruits and vegetable are my best friends because I now go to food coops and yoga places for nutritional advice. I tell many people about your site who need advice and holistic food consultant/ dietitian.

Valarie February 1, 2013 - 12:05 PM

I don’t know how it is personally with human medicine, but I know how it’s run in the veterinary world. Hill’s is the number one recommended diet by veterinarians because they practically give dog food away to veterinary students. That means we take their free food, get used to feeding it to our own pets, and then have no experience with other types of diets unless we take elective nutrition courses.

Cheryl February 2, 2013 - 1:33 PM

Being educated & informed is the key. Once we have obtained proven & viable information, it is up to each one of us to share it with another. Unfortunately this process can be long & slow in order for positive change to occur, and a mind shift, but we must press on. There are so many who don’t have access to fresh fruits & vegetables, know how to use natural herbs, flavor their water with any of these things naturally.

It is frustrating when regulations are put in place to target certain groups of people (like the soda ban, or making it against regulation for persons with food stamps to purchase sugary drinks, etc) that is not a solution. Why not ensure cost effective solutions that would make it cheaper to purchase healthier items, why not eradicate food deserts?

We must look out for people in communities who have no voice or is never heard. Growing up I remember the vegetable man coming through the neighborhood bi-weekly, as well as, the meat/fresh fish man. My grandmother prepared fresh healthy meals & stretched the heck out of a budget. We must get back to basics in order to live productive and healthy lives & lifestyles. We are seeing too many of our children laden with health issues & inactive. As we know, we can not rely on the government or big corporations to look out for our well being. The desire to cultivate and protect human life does not trump power & greed for these entities.

Mishala July 23, 2013 - 1:09 AM

I’m a bit blown away by this. I don’t know why I should be, though. We’ve all gone to the doctor and had them tell us something totally ridiculous. But it has me thinking. It’s about time for my daughters’ check up, and I know the whole time I’m going to be looking at the poor soul wondering how legitimate the information and recommendations passed on to me are. It makes me glad I’m going back to the holistic approach to life and health, but it still scares me.

Comments are closed.