Your Dietary Advice, Sponsored By …

The American Dietetic Association, the largest organization of dietitians in the US, has accepted a new sponsorship from Truvia. Truvia is the brand name of a stevia based sweetener manufactured by Cargill, recently approved as safe for consumption by the FDA.

Cargill is not the first sponsor of the ADA, a 68,000 member strong organization based in Chicago. On the ADA’s sponsorship page, one can find The Coca Cola Company, PepsiCo, Mars Company, Unilever, General Mills and Kellogg’s.

Is this a problem?

Rephrasing the question with more detail:  Can an organization whose mission is to direct people to proper dietary choices be sponsored by food companies whose products aren’t always inline with proper dietary choices?

What you need to know:

The ADA is not a government organization. It receives annual dues from its members and accepts donations from individuals and groups, but these are not sufficient to cover the costs of the many (excellent) activities it is leading in nutrition and diet education. And sponsorships are an acceptable means to provide additional funding for an organization.

We’re sure that in a perfect world, the ADA would likely not accept
money from food manufacturers. However, given the choice between very
limited activities with a small budget, or creating a much larger
impact with contributions from industry, the ADA has chosen the lesser
of two evils.

But what happens if there is a conflict between the sponsor’s goals and those of the beneficiary?

Food companies ultimately have one goal – make more money for their shareholders.

On the other hand, the ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

There is no doubt that bad health is the result of , among others, bad diets.  Bad diets include over-consumption of many of the products manufactured by the ADA’s sponsors. By logic, reducing the consumption of products made by PepsiCo, Mars, et al. will improve the nation’s health, but at the same time reduce sponsor companies’ profits. Therein lies the problem of these sponsorships.

What’s a consumer to think ? Should we trust advice given to us by the ADA? Can the ADA be truly objective?

Don’t get us wrong. We’re sure that the ADA has a Chinese Wall between funding activities and research activities. However, there is always a shadow of a doubt, especially when a corporate sponsorship logo appears at the bottom each of the ADA’s  nutrition fact sheets (they are very informative, by the way).

This is a touchy issue inhouse at the ADA as well. Many dietitians, members of the ADA, feel torn about these sponsorships. Last year, Coca Cola joined as a sponsor, and a small group of dietitians left the ADA in protest.

Many folks would feel much better if sponsorships of the ADA would come from contributors with no direct interests in the policies and actions it decides upon. Can’t we just have the NBA, United Airelines, and GE cough up some sponsorship dough? Is this even possible?

Comments welcome…

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