The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Junk Food Industry

When I first decided to become a Registered Dietitian, I was very excited about the opportunity to join the team of nutrition experts that represent the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).  I assumed that the credential (and the professional organization behind it) would provide me with the skills and education necessary to help improve the nation’s food environment through public policy and research. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.  Instead, I find myself struggling to defend my credential, and wanting to distance myself from the very organization I was supposed to be depending on for guidance.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) is the United States’ largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Comprised primarily of Registered Dietitians, the organization is supposed to help advance the profession through research, advocacy and education.

However, last January, Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit and blogger for Eat Drink Politics, unveiled a report disclosing important details about the relationships between the AND and food companies like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Hershey’s. This report provided abundant evidence that partnerships with Big Food make it impossible for AND members to communicate clear and accurate nutrition messages.

ANDReportCover

Americans are already bombarded with deceptive claims and misleading information regarding nutrition and health.  Most don’t realize that much of the advice they receive stems from the economic interests of food companies rather than actual nutrition science.   Big Food is not in business to protect or contribute to good health. These companies exist to make profits. Partnering with health organizations like the AND is just another means to put a health halo on products that are fundamentally unhealthful, and provides a false sense of trust to the public that the companies actually care about the health of their customers.

According to Simon’s report, the AND claims,

In its relations with corporate organizations, the Academy is mindful of the need to avoid a perception of conflict of interest and to act at all times in ways that will only enhance the credibility and professional recognition of the Academy and its members.

But, when food companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s (known for their junk food products) sponsor the Academy’s conferences and contribute continuing education to Registered Dietitians, it is impossible for the RD credential not to lose integrity in the eyes of the public.  Furthermore, it is hard to believe that there is no bias in the information and research that is presented. You can’t expect an organization accepting funding from fast food companies to tell the public to eat less fast food. Instead, they use messages like, ‘all foods fit’ or ‘everything in moderation’, that continue to confuse consumers.

It is truly unfortunate that the reputation of a credential we have worked so hard for (and deeply value) has become tarnished thanks to some measly monetary contributions by Big Food.  Thankfully, I discovered an organization a few months ago comprised of over 4,000 Registered Dietitians, health professionals and conscious consumers that not only feel as I do, but are striving for change. Dietitians for Professional Integrity was created by several RD’s, working hard to convince the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to cut ties with food companies that contribute to our nation’s poor health. In fact, just a few days ago, the organization released a petition, which will be formally presented to the Academy at their next Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in October.

67974_470416076361606_1005254201_n
Even if you are not a Registered Dietitian, please consider signing on to this petition. Nutrition professionals, the clients we serve, and the public deserve nutrition information and education free of bias and influence from junk food companies.

McWeight-Loss: Oh, Please.

At it’s most recent annual shareholders meeting, McDonald’s was once again faced with criticism that it is a purveyor of junk food that markets to children.  Speakers from the advocacy group, Corporate Accountability International, health professionals, parents and 9-year-old Hannah Robertson used the meeting as a means to confront CEO, Don Thompson about the companies poor practices.  Thompson went to great lengths to defend the company, mostly with outright lies about how the company sells ‘high-quality’ products and doesn’t market to children.

Michele Simon, public health lawyer and the author of the book Appetite for Profit countered his arguments in this outstanding blog post titled,  Top 10 lies told by McDonald’s CEO at annual shareholders’ meeting. It is a must read.

article-2333272-19F6CF49000005DC-74_634x380

Riding on the heels of this altercation, I was shocked and disgusted to discover Thompson’s latest attempt to protect McDonald’s image.  Over the last few days, several media outlets have been reporting news of the CEO’s alleged  ’20 pound weight loss’ which he claims included daily consumption of McDonald’s food.

As you might have noticed from my previous post on Coca-Cola, when the junk food industry starts handing out diet advice and weight loss tips, it really gets my blood boiling.  All they are doing is making attempts to clean up their image, sell more products, and distract the public from the fact that the products they create, by-and-large, are detrimental to our health.

How can Thompson, in good conscience, talk about eating McDonald’s and losing weight while simultaneously introducing products like the Mega Potato in Japan? This ‘side item’ is the equivalent of two large fries stuffed into one container and packs 1,142 calories (the largest amount of calories any single McDonald’s item has contained in the company’s history.)

The fact is, the majority of the food in McDonald’s product portfolio contains ingredients that are high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in fiber and vitamins. McDonald’s food also contains many chemical additives, including propylene glycol (a less toxic version of anti-freeze), and azodicarbonamide (most commonly used in the production of foamed plastics.)

Losing weight isn’t easy, especially when we are constantly being handed conflicting advice about how to do it.  Maybe Thompson did lose some weight; he is not the first person to claim that it can be done while eating fast food.  But, weight loss is not equivalent to being healthy.  If he ate less calories and exercised (as he claims), then yes, weight-loss is possible even when you are eating a lousy diet.  But, that doesn’t mean you should do it.