Earlier this week, we attended the annual dietitian conference known as FNCE (Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo), organized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association). Aside from interesting educational sessions, there is the expo floor, where many companies have booths with food for dietitians to sample and learn about.
One of the most contentious issues at the conference is its sponsorship by companies that common sense would exclude: Coca Cola and PepsiCo. These 2 companies represent fun brands, not healthy brands. Not only are they sponsors, thanked by the Academy, they get prime location for their booths. Coca Cola is the first thing you notice entering the expo floor.
There are many questions to be asked:
- Should junk food companies be allowed to exhibit at a nutrition conference?
- Should junk food companies be a sponsor of a nutrition conference?
- Should junk food companies be a sponsor of the organization that represents 70,000 registered dietitians?
- Does the public perception of dietitians diminish as a result of said sponsorships?
Regarding question #1 – The junk food companies may have new products that are healthy, so perhaps showing them off to dietitians is a good idea. But who gets to decide the cutoff between healthy and not healthy? The result is that dietitians are fed misguided information about products. See for example the Coca Cola billboards explaining how they have no part in this country’s obesity crisis.
Regarding questions #2-#4 – Being a sponsor implies that in some way the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is endorsing these companies and their products. And that sends of the wrong message to the public. It’s like physicians’ groups receiving money from cigarette manufacturers as late as the sixties. We look back on that now and realize how ludicrous such sponsorships were. No doubt, in decades to come we will look back to 2013 and smack our collective forehead in disbelief.
For more information check out Dietitians for Professional Integrity (DFPI), a group of dietitians that is petitioning Academy leadership to change its course. DFPI was founded earlier this year by 14 dietitians, among them Andy Bellatti and Elizabeth Lee, who were representing the group at FNCE this week. DFPI has amassed over 6,300 “likes” on its Facebook page, collected almost 25,000 signatures for its Change.org petition to change sponsorship policies. The Facebook “likes” and petition signatures are not all from dietitians, as they are open to the general public.
The petition was submitted to Academy leadership during the conference, and has created quite a conversation in the nutrition community. Academy Media Relations Manager Ryan O’Malley confirmed that the petition signatures have been received. AND will analyze and compile a summary of the signatures which they will share with Fooducate. Stay tuned.