During my undergraduate studies at Florida State University back in 2007, I decided to switch my major from Nursing to Nutrition with the hopes of helping to create a healthier nation through the preventative measures of healthy eating and exercise. It was such a spectacular moment in my life when I realized that I could develop my career around one of my great passions in life…food.
In 2008, I attended my first Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (put on by the American Dietetic Association – now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) with students from FSU’s Student Dietetic Association. It’s an enormous annual event bringing together the country’s nutrition professionals as a means of sharing new research, networking and showcasing new food products. The moment I stepped foot in the expo room, I noticed that this popular event was sponsored by some of the largest food companies in the industry. Money speaks. And it was that moment when I truly experienced such a notion for myself.
It was quite shocking to me; that a group of what are considered to be nutrition experts of the world would accept the sponsorship of Coca-Cola, Nestle and General Mills. Companies which do nothing but deplete the health of our nation at such cheap cost. Nothing could be more offensive.
Accepting funding from such companies doesn’t necessarily imply that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) supports that companies goals. But come on, how can we, as dietitians, simultaneously accept funding from Coca-Cola yet frown upon the ingestion of this sugar laden drink which has contributed greatly to our nation’s outrageous obesity and diabetes rates?
Michele Simon, public health lawyer and president of Eat, Drink, Politics, has just published a report depicting the intimate financial relationship between corporate food companies and the AND. Quite a few folks are talking about it too. The New York Times wrote a rather neutral article about the matter, and in Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, she does a superb job at summarizing the 51 page report. What’s most surprising to me is that corporate food funding makes up a very small percentage of its total income. In other words, the life of AND doesn’t come close to depending on that funding, so why in the world are they reaching out their hands to those whose products and excessive marketing deeply hurt the health of our public?
I can’t put all the blame on food companies for the nation’s poor health, but I do believe they are partly responsible. The millions of dollars poured into the marketing and advertising of their poison definitely doesn’t help consumers make healthier choices. And this is where dietitians, nutritionists and health professionals should have a voice. A voice of reason, helping consumers to avoid Big Food’s deceptive messages; not waving their flags at health conferences.