Nutritionists' professional events catered by McD's, sponsored by High Fructose Corn Syrup

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]

Notable Replies

  1. Wikipedia: Corporatism.

    Loosely, it's the flip side of fascism. In fascism, government initiates a merging of government and corporate interests. In corporatism, the corporations initiate a merging of government and corporate interests.

  2. Food industry coopting nutritionists? I say it's just the opposite. I can remember when a Big Mac could kill a man; now it's just tofu and bean sprouts. They even have salads at Burger King. Salads! I don't see no sign that says Salad King, do you?

  3. This article seems to be somewhat misleading. A "nutritionist" is NOT a medical professional, and in most states there are no credentials for being a "nutritionist". In most cases anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
    On the other hand, a "registered dietitian" or RD is a certified medical professional. Read up here for more information on the big differences between the two ...

  4. Its also odd that he refers us to Ben Goldacre. A guy who built a large part of his public career on pointing out that nutritionists are not medical professionals.

    Nutritionists are typically quacks. In the US the term for a credentialed medical professional is Dietitian, although some Dietitians use "Nutritionist" as a sort of trade name since the public seems to recognize it more. The Organisation running this event (and the event itself) seems to be a professional organisation for Dietitians, so actual medical professionals.

  5. holly says:

    Yes, unfortunately, the California Dietetic Association is a local chapter of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is the professional organization for Registered Dietitians (who are medical professionals -- we calculate your IV feeds and tube feedings in the hospitals and order diets, and physicians refer to us when their patients need nutritional counseling).

    Please don't let the Academy's sponsorship shenanigans taint your view of RDs. There are many many RD/RDNs who are disgusted with the Academy's embracing of food companies as sponsors and we are trying to put a stop to it. We have a website:

    where we organize, and, for instance, list continuing education credits that are not produced by food companies. If you think food company sponsorship of a nutrition organization is a disgraceful conflict of interest as we do, please help us out by writing a letter to the AND letting them know how you feel. Here's how to find contact information for the leadership:

    Holly Hudson, MS, RDN, CDN

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