Why I’m not a Member of the Academy

Well, I guess there’s no better way to kick off this baby blog than with an extremely controversial post. I want to write a little bit about why I am not a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (also known as the Academy or the AND). I know that I may not make very many friends with this post, but it is something that is important to me. I am passionate about what I do and I want the best for members of my profession and for our clients.

Ostensibly, the Academy represents and advocates for credentialed nutrition professionals – Registered Dietitians (RDs) / Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)* and Dietetic Technicians, Registered (DTRs). As their website states, they are “committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.” They offer nutrition information to the public on a variety of topics from men’s health to food safety. To their members, they offer several perks – free or discounted access to publications, competitive pricing to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference Expo or FNCE (a yearly gathering of nutrition professionals and representatives from the food industry), free or discounted continuing education units – required for recertification as an RD/RDN – and more. They also list your name on their website under the “Find A Registered Dietitian” tab, thus making you more visible to potential clients. All of these benefits seem great, right?
*The RD and RDN credentials mean the same thing. At about the same time that the Academy became “The Academy,” rather than its former moniker of the American Dietetic Association, they also started transitioning the phrasing of the RD credential to reflect the more standard title of “nutritionist” rather than just “dietitian.”

The problem, for me, is that the Academy has WAY too many ties to Big Food. These are the companies that we in the nutrition world see as dominating the U.S. junk food market – and, in many cases, the global market as well. Michele Simon has published an in-depth report on the issue.

AND cropped

Simon is a public health attorney who has long been raising concerns about the food industry’s influence on nutrition. Her report highlights the (very) cozy relationship between the Academy and food companies. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics accepts funding from many of the companies whose products it should, in any sane world, recommend against. Here’s a list of some of their current sponsors. These sponsors also have “[the] right to co-create, co-brand an Academy-themed informational consumer campaign,” meaning that they can create marketing material for consumers that promotes their product and put the AND stamp on it.
  • Many of the approved providers of continuing education to RDs are food companies. Here’s the current list. Note a few of my favorites: the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo Nutrition, General Mills, Kraft Foods, National Pasteurized Eggs, Inc., and so on. According to Simon’s report, AND states that some of the benefits of becoming an accredited CEU provider are: exposure to Academy members, promotion of their continuing education activities, and having their name listed on the AND website.
  • AND’s political action committee (PAC) does not take on issues that would offend its sponsors, even if they have huge implications for public health. For example, AND actively opposed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to put a cap on the size of sugar-sweetened beverages that could be sold to consumers. (Sponsors: Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co.) They also opposed California’s Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of GMO products. (Sponsors: Monsanto, ConAgra Foods.)

How can such an organization claim to represent the best interest of nutrition professionals? Furthermore, how can they claim to make unbiased recommendations to the public about health and nutrition?

While I understand that the scientific community is rife with this kind of thing, I just can’t accept it. What makes it even harder to swallow is that the AND actually goes against their own code of ethics in allowing these partnerships. Under “Responsibilities to the Profession,” the code of ethics states that “The dietetics practitioner is alert to the occurrence of a real or potential conflict of interest and takes appropriate action whenever a conflict arises.” What constitutes appropriate action? There are two options set forth by the academy.

  1. “The dietetics practitioner makes full disclosure of any real or perceived conflict of interest;” or,
  2. “When a conflict of interest cannot be resolved by disclosure, the dietetics practitioner takes such other action as may be necessary to eliminate the conflict, including recusal from an office, position, or practice situation.”

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that the Academy’s disclosure of its “conflicts of interest” with almost every leading junk-food company in America constitutes a resolution of the problem.

Really?

Really?

Thankfully, as of right now, nutrition professionals are not required to be members of the AND in order to be credentialed. I hope against hope that this doesn’t change, and I also cross my fingers that I won’t have to pass up any professional opportunities due to my lack of membership. We’ll see.

In 2011, I was lucky enough to have a group dinner with the esteemed food journalist, gardener, and cook Michael Pollan (Thanks, Dad!). I asked him how we were supposed to fix all of the food problems in this country when the very organization that accredits dietetic education programs is in bed with its own worst enemies. He said something along the lines of, “I think the dietitians are going to rise up. I think that this new wave of nutritionists is going to demand that the [Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics] change its policies and practices. It’s going to be the students – it’s going to be people like you.” I’m happy to report that it has begun. Here’s a start.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Why I’m not a Member of the Academy

  1. I’m not involved with your profession, so this is news to me. Thanks for presenting it. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m surprised. This strikes me as akin to the regulatory capture that enables, for example, many criminals in the financial industry to avoid meaningful penalties for their crimes. It’s all part of living in a society whose primary principle is, “Money talks.”

  2. A. You are so passionate. B. I love that you have a “conflicts of interest” tag. I guess that is a little more mainstream than a “Laura” tag 🙂

  3. You should write AND! Although I do believe sometimes these big companies do support *some* good research/initiatives (i’ve seen a lot of great anti-obesity/exercise/research stuff come from Coca-Cola since i’m so close to Atlanta! In fact, they have provided millions of $ to the UGA obesity initiative to fund some of our anti-obesity research) like you said, it does pose a lot of confusion to the consumer about the profession. Keep up the good work, Libby!

    • Lauren, do you know who I might direct the letter to? And I’m so conflicted about your Coke comment. The trouble I have with it is that if they are funding research at any institution, no matter how reputable, that institution is going to do its best to paint the company in a favorable light so as not to lose funding. I don’t think you can get objective science this way.

  4. Hi Libby,

    I am currently a student in a dietetics program, though I will not be sitting for the upcoming RD exam for reasons you’ve explained, and more.

    After 4 years in the program, I am very surprised at the lack of pertinent education offered, and would feel very unequipped for a career in nutrition had I not spent dozens of hours weekly educating myself outside the classroom.

    I feel that prospective students should understand what they are getting themselves into, and know which corporations they will be linked to, should they accept the membership within the AND.

    I hope this post is read by more students and members alike!

    Keep up the great work here at your blog! Best wishes.

    -Adam

    • Hi Adam,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! It means a lot to me. Do you have education/career plans after you finish your dietetic education? I’d love to hear a little more.

      I’m looking forward to checking out your blog! Best of luck as you continue with your education.

      Libby

  5. Hey Libby,

    I’ll be taking a break from institutionalized education to focus on my own work. I offer classes, workshops and foraging tours, and will also begin my consulting business.

    I’m not sure if I will return to school, as most information is freely provided today. As long as someone has the drive, motivation, determination, and passion, any subject can be learned and put to good use.

    How about you? Are you still in school? Will you be returning in the future? Are you using your RD credential now in your work? What are your future plans?

    I’d love to hear about them!

    Take care,
    Adam

    • Hey Adam!

      I finished my graduate degree in December of 2012 and do not plan on returning to school. I do use my RD credential in my work with the county health department. When I originally applied to school, I really only wanted to do the MPH portion of my program, but was given some advice that even with an MPH in nutrition, it is very difficult to get a nutrition-related job in industry or government without the RD credential. I did find this to be true when I was searching for jobs a year and a half ago, so I am glad that I have it even though I’m not comfortable with what it may represent.

      In the future, I’m not really sure! I’d like to get more involved in policy, but beyond that, I don’t really have any concrete ideas.

      Your plan sounds great. Good luck! I’m sure I’ll get to read about it as it goes along…

      Libby

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s