An alarming report from the California Dietetic Association describes a kind of corporatist apocalyptic nightmare where junk-food companies pony up fat sponsorships in order to pervert the agenda and distort the science. Nutritionists, like other medical professionals, have to attend educational meetings in order to keep up their credentials.
Their professional bodies have seemingly been totally co-opted through corporate sponsorships, and nutritionists who try to document this are thwarted by "no photography" policies. But even without pictures, it's obvious that a panel on corn sweeteners that's paid for by the corn growers and only sports employees of high-fructose corn syrup is not going to produce a rounded picture of the science of obesity and HFCS.
The situation for nutritionists is a microcosm for the whole health industry. As Ben Goldacre details in his essential book Bad Pharma, doctors' continuing education is almost entirely funded by pharmaceutical companies that present multi-hour adverts for their products -- including dodgy studies that they funded -- in place of genuine, impartial scientific training.
Marion Nestle, a New York University nutritionist, wrote about nutritionists and corporate sponsorships in her 2007 book, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. "I worry a lot about food industry co-optation of my profession," she wrote to me in an email. "Food companies are smart. They know that if they can make friends and help inform dietitians and nutritionists that the people they are supporting or helping will be reluctant to suggest eating less of their products."
Andy Bellatti, a dietitian and member of AND, recalls his shock the first time he attended the organization's national conference, in 2008. "I could get continuing education credits for literally sitting in a room and listening to Frito-Lay tell me that Sun Chips are a good way to meet my fiber needs," he says. "I thought, 'No wonder Americans are overweight and diabetic. The gatekeepers for our information about food are getting their information from junk-food companies.'"
I Went to the Nutritionists' Annual Confab. It Was Catered by McDonald's. [Kiera Butler/Mother Jones]