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 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:
- Aspartame is completely safe, including for children over one year
- Aspartame allows enjoyment of sweet taste without raising blood sugar levels
- Aspartame and stevia can help with weight loss
- Low calorie sweeteners do not overstimulate taste receptors, provoke hunger, cause overeating or increase body weight
- Use of low-calorie sweeteners may be indicative of healthier diets (as in, “Diet soda consumers have all-around better diets!”)
- Low-calorie sweetener intake reduces total calories consumed and improves palatability of foods
- Majority of studies have not found a link between sugar and behavior in children; Despite the evidence, parents continue to believe sugar leads to behavioral problems in children due to their perceptual bias
- The safety of low-calorie sweeteners are supported by numerous peer-reviewed studies and major regulatory agencies
- The Institute of Medicine (a non-profit, non-government organization whose purpose “is to provide national advice on issues relating to biomedical science, medicine, and health, and its mission to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health.”) is “too restrictive in its school nutrition standards.”
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.
- Think Inside the Box: Increase Fiber with Food Ingredients: Presented by Premier Sponsor Kellogg
- High Fructose Corn Syrup: Myths vs. Science; Presented by (who else?) the Corn Refiners Association
- Zeroing in on the Whole Grain Definition; Presented by General Mills
- Weight Management, sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association
- Kids are Drinking What?!; Presented by Academy Partner National Dairy Association
- In the Kitchen and Outside the Box: Cooking Lactose Free; Presented by Academy Partner National Dairy Association
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.)
(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.