Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Recent activities of Dietitians for Professional Integrity

Andy Bellatti last month summarized in a column for Civil Eats the recent activities of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, an initiative to encourage the leading dietetics professional association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to distance itself more clearly from its food and beverage industry sponsors.
For years, many of my colleagues and I have voiced our discontent that the professional organization that represents us takes money from and partners with the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, and Hershey’s, supposedly to foster dialogue with the industry and help Americans get healthier. In reality, Big Food gets free press for feigning concern, while going about its usual business, and the registered dietitian credential gets dragged through the mud.

“Too often I’ve lost the trust of potential clients because, despite my rigorous education in nutrition, they only see the dietetics field as corrupted by big businesses,” says Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD, one of Dietitians for Professional Integrity’s co-founders.

Over the past four months, Dietitians for Professional Integrity has shared many statements of concern from registered dietitians on its Facebook page, and helped raise awareness of Big Food’s influence on the Academy (from the world’s largest aspartame producer helping to fund the organization’s evidence analysis team on the artificial sweetener to Coca-Cola’s Academy-approved continuing education webinars which  teach dietitians that soda is unfairly vilified).
A key point is that Dietitians for Professional Integrity is not a "nanny state" initiative.  There are good reasons why it is sometimes difficult for government agencies to take strong public interest positions on key challenges to the healthfulness of the food and beverage industry.  Government institutions in a democracy frequently must represent the mainstream of public opinion.  They explicitly must be concerned both with public health and with encouraging a thriving economy.  When government agencies push too hard or are insufficiently deferential to individual preferences in guiding people toward healthy nutritional choices, the public worries about government overreach.

Because of these constraints on government activism, it is especially important that non-profit public interest organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics speak clearly, boldly, and without bias on the nutrition issues of the day.  I think Bellatti and Dietitians for Professional Integrity have a good point in encouraging this private-sector nutrition organization to be more independent from its corporate sponsors.  Sometimes, the Academy should have more courage to criticize food and beverage industry products and marketing practices that really do contribute to an unhealthy nutrition environment.

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