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.