When you think of healthy eating, you definitely don’t think of a can of Coke.
So how is it that a group representing close to 72,000 nutritionists and dietitians has counted Coca-Cola as a major sponsor? That’s long been the case for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the United States’ largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.
The AND has been criticized for years for its connections to food giants such as McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Kraft. At AND conferences, it’s not uncommon to find the National Confectioners Association serving candy in the lobby or a display from Hershey’s promoting the consumption of milk chocolate “in moderation.”
According to IIN visiting teacher Michele Simon, it gets worse. These corporate sponsors fund continuing education sessions that are required for a dietitian’s credentialing. These sessions include messages such as “there is no link between sugar and behavioral problems in children.”
Sound fishy? It’s because it is. In the past eight years, Coca-Cola gave the academy $2.6 million for conferences and programs, and many condemn this as a huge conflict of interest.
A Coke spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that the company is “broadly reviewing its partnerships aimed at addressing obesity” and will start meeting with health groups.
Though you could interpret this news as a heartening development, it’s also unfortunate that Coke was the one to end the partnership rather than the other way around. It appears that the AND has no plans to reevaluate its ties to food corporations that could have a questionable influence on its policies, regardless of what’s actually best for people’s health.
This conflict of interest has angered many dietitians, some of whom have formed a group called Dietitians for Professional Integrity to pressure the AND to stop accepting money from big sponsors.
While registered dietitians play an important role in the medical system, they are required to abide by government standards that are also swayed by private interest groups. Politicians need a lot of money to get elected, and food and drug companies are some of their biggest backers. This directly influences official nutrition guidelines!
So what can you do? As IIN founder Joshua Rosenthal says, “With our dollars, our voices, and our forks, we have the power to create change.” Shop at your local farmers market, get involved with your local government, and get educated.
We are in the midst of a global health crisis, but if we all stand up for what we know to be true, we can make a huge difference.
What are you thoughts about this news – does it surprise, shock, or sadden you? Let us know what you think in the comments below!