ADA Response to Accusations on Partnership with Hershey

A couple of weeks ago we lamented the signing of a sponsorship deal between the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and chocolate mega-corp Hershey.

We exchanged emails with the ADA in order to voice our concern and to learn more about this relationship. The ADA media relations group was open and gracious in providing the information. Here’s what we found out.

What you need to know:

The ADA would not share the size of Hershey’s contribution, but indicated that Less than 9% of ADA’s budget comes from outside organizations, meaning that more than 90% of ADA’s operating budget comes from member dues and sales revenue from educational meetings and materials.

We were pointed to the ADA’s Annual Report [PDF], where on page 12, you can see that in 2009, the ADA had about $33M in revenue; $2.9M of that came from sponsors.

If it’s such a small percentage of the ADA’s revenue, that means if the ADA was 10% more efficient with its funds, perhaps it wouldn’t need sponsors at all!  Just wondering…

As to why accepting money from junk food manufacturers is important, the ADA had this to say:

It’s important for ADA to be at the same table with food companies because of the positive influence that we can have on them. For ADA, relationships with outside organizations are not about promoting companies’ products; they are about creating nutrition messages that people can understand and act upon to improve their health and that of their families.

But we think that the sponsorship deals are much more important to the junk food companies than they are to the ADA. Companies get validation from reputable health organizations. The public hears corporate messages how company X “is working with doctors and dietitians on formulating improved products, educating consumers, etc…”. And the public is slowly convinced  “Gee, this company can’t be too bad, after all it’s working with health professionals to make my snacks healthier…”
With respect to possible conflicts of interest regarding excess snacking on candy bars, some possibly manufactured by Hershey’s, the ADA had this to say:

ADA’s mission is to advocate for its members and therefore ADA does not endorse any companies, products or services, regardless of if they are a sponsor or not.

ADA specifically does not discourage people from eating any particular food (or drinking any particular beverage). ADA’s consumer messages about healthful eating are derived from our Association positions. Our position on “Total Diet Approach to Communicating Food and Nutrition Information” states that the total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style. All foods can fit within this pattern, if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity. The American Dietetic Association strives to communicate healthful eating messages to the public that emphasize a balance of foods, rather than any one food or meal.

No surprises here. But if we hear the words balance and moderation one more time, we might jump off one of McDonald’s Golden Arches. Hello!!! There’s an obesity catastrophe going on out there! How can you tell people there is room for everything in the diet?

Tell them to cut all the crap out of their diet right now and save their lives! People will cheat in any case, and have their sugary, fatty, additive laden foods whether you tell them to or not. But when people hear that it’s OK in moderation, they’ll eat even more junk.

We don’t need to hear from dietitians that it’s OK, because we’ve passed the point of moderation decades ago. We’ve been out of balance since the 1980′s. We need drastic measures, drastic messages, and a courageous voice.

But in order to make these bold statements, the ADA cannot have even 5% of its revenue come from industry. So long as it does, we can assure you that the messages will be weak and useless to the mass consumer, and the obesity epidemic will continue to rage on.

  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    When it comes to “balance” and “moderation”, I’m with you 100%. These two words have enabled and encouraged countless unsuspecting Americans to reach for crappier foodlike substances that create significant damage to both personal and planetary health.

    Those who buy into the dogma of the American Dietetic Association need to follow the money and ask some serious questions about integrity.

  • Mendy Heaps

    Schools have also jumped on the “balance and moderation” bandwagon! These two words enable school districts to sell tons of junk food and make thousands of dollars each year. I’m so tired of hearing, “Kids will never learn to make good choices if we don’t offer them all kinds of food.” What CRAP! If adults can’t handle “balance and moderation” how do we expect kids to handle it? As far as I’m concerned, the ADA has climbed in bed with the DEVIL!

  • HL Brewer

    I believe “all foods can fit” and refuse to be the “food police”. I will continue to counsel, teach and explain, but I will not bully, threaten, nor be “holier than thou” about food and what people chose to eat. “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink; it annoys the horse and gets you all wet”. Even chocolate can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

  • Carrie (Love Healthy Living)

    I might jump off those yellow arches with you. I can’t believe the ADA justifies their relationship with junk food companies. Ridiculous.

  • Brenda

    Why don’t these candy companies try and make healthier candies with real chocolate and sugar instead of HFC and all that other garbage? They could easily pave the way to balance and moderation when they make better candy and stop that KING SIZE garbage. They should be held more accountable period!

  • thenontoxicmom

    “Everything in moderation” is one of the most misused phrases out there…people use it to justify their terrible habits. Guess what? Not all foods were meant to be eaten in moderation! Some are meant to be thrown in the trash where they belong, starting with chocolate candy that’s marketed to kids and full of artificial flavors and hardly any real chocolate.

  • carol

    There’s nothing wrong with the concept of moderation and balance; it is in fact the “key” to eating a healthy diet. The problem is in how it is interpreted by individuals (and marketers). I eat a small piece of good dark chocolate almost every day. And it contains sugar. This is not a big dent in anyone’s total calories and is not going to harm ones health. But perhaps the phrase “in moderation” should be changed to “with restraint” or “a lot less than you think,” as it is really about knowing how much is “moderate.” The terms “variety” and “balance” in nutrition-speak are supposed to mean getting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, protein sources, etc. in optimum proportions to ensure a healthy quantity and diversity of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, etc.). Sometimes we nutritionists forget that the average person may think of “balance” and “variety” as having a bag of M&Ms one day for a snack and a Twinkie the next. But we like to think people are a little sharper than that.

  • Paula

    I agree with moderation. I’m at a healthy weight as are my children, and they still have snacks and treats that are not healthy at times. I teach them moderation and balance. I think if the ADA goes to harsh, extreme words and phrases, (never, none, etc.)then the people who need to hear the message the most will stop listening. So the ADA is trying to meet the people halfway and help them move towards doing better. It’s about babysteps which has been the best way to effect change in my life, so maybe it will help other people also.

  • kc

    Just ask former Iowa Governor and present Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack if flying around in Monsanto’s private jet has influenced his stance on genetically modified crops. If contributions didn’t influence the people that receive them and bring in more revenue, the big corporations wouldn’t bother to contribute. The sole purpose of large corporations is to make money for its shareholders so giving away a little money had better guarantee more revenue down the road.

  • Corey


    *citation needed*

  • kc

    This is just one of the hundreds of articles online which detail Tom Vilsack’s stance on GMO crops and factory farms:

    Or maybe you were looking for a citation about how modern corporations work?