Opening up my e-mail this week, I see a message titled “CDC Reminder – May 1 Sysco Sacramento workshop.” Not recognizing the sender, I’m intrigued. I open it up to read that in this case “CDC” stands for the “Consultant Dietitians of California, Inc.” and they are inviting me to their second “Successful Survey” workshop in northern California. If I were to attend, I would receive six continuing education units; all registered dietitians must complete 75 continuing education units every five years to maintain their license. I scour the e-mail further to see if there is anything else about Sysco; I was wondering what a well-known food company was doing co-hosting an educational event geared toward dietitians. Scrolling down, I see the marketing message states that attendants will learn the:
“new Dining Practice Standard of real Food First!
Using delicious, simply prepared fortified food.”
Huh? Since when is real food prepared and fortified? I have always taught my clients that real food either comes from the ground (plant-based foods) or comes from a mother (animal-based foods). I wondered if these prepared and fortified foods that they would be discussing in the conference were the subtle, unannounced connection to the Sysco Corporation.
Sysco claims to be the global leader inselling, marketing, and distributing food products. Last fiscal year, the food product giant reported record-breaking sales of $44 billion. Sysco has apparently formed some kind of a partnership with the Consultant Dietitians of California to allow them to discreetly host this workshop for registered dietitians.
While this partnership between industry and a professional organization may seem benign, Sysco has food products to push, while the Consultant Dietitians of California should be resounding the vision of its overarching organization – the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “optimizing the nation’s health through food and nutrition.” How can health be optimized when the Consultant Dietitians of Calfornia’s message is compromised through the lens of Sysco?
This corporate partnership is not unique to the Consultant Dietitians of California, which clearly states that it is a group of “independent contractors” on its website. In fact, every single issue of the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsthat I have ever browsed highlights advertisements from various food companies. For example, the February 2014 edition showcases four full-page spreads:
- A colorful advertisement from McCormick & Co., Inc.,
- An announcement that $1Million is available through the “Champions for Healthy Kids Grants,” funded by the General Mills Foundation and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,
- A statement that the Academy’s mission has advanced and that progress has been made “through collaboration” with Abbott Nutrition, the National Dairy Council, the beverage institute for health & wellness – The Coca-Cola Company, General Mills, Kellog’s, McCormick, PepsiCo, SOYJOY, and Unilever, and,
- A full-page glossy colorful back cover spread from the National Dairy Council, which announces that February is Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month. It offers tips to share with our lactose intolerant patients, including advice for patients to talk to their doctors to confirm whether they are indeed lactose intolerant and to encourage them to “still try to consume dairy because it provides essential nutrients needed for a healthy diet.”
Aside from these four pages of food industry shout-outs, it is hard to detect other color or excitement in the journal.
The Academy’s position paper on “Interventions for the Prevention and Treatment of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity” claims that we need to use “a systems-level approach” when strategizing around childhood obesity; we need to examine the “influences of the food and beverage industry, food marketing practices and regulations.” How can the Academy assert this as its position while simultaneously allowing (or perhaps even inviting?) food industry marketing to:
- Debut on its journal cover and lurk in between the pages?
- Shape educational opportunities for registered dietitians earning continuing education units?
- Take over the Academy’s annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo by buying booth space and food demonstration time?
It is time for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to take a stand against these corporate partnerships. How can it accept money from the giant food industry system it is trying to fight against? What the Academy and food industry have is not a partnership; it’s a sponsorship.