Big Food’s Co-Optation of Nutrition Professionals

For years now, I have been hearing about the food industry’s influence on the annual conference of the American Dietetic Association — the nation’s largest gathering of nutrition professionals–with some 7,000 registered dietitians in attendance. Last month, I witnessed it for myself and discovered the corporate takeover by Big Food was worse than I even imagined.
The top-paying sponsors, whom ADA called “partners,” were Coca-Cola, Aramark, the National Dairy Council, and Hershey (their “Center for Health and Nutrition” – really). “Premier sponsors” included PepsiCo, Mars, and General Mills.
The exhibit hall seemed more like a processed food trade show than a nutrition conference. I saw very few booths with actual information, apart from that being peddled by the likes of Nestle, Kraft, and McDonald’s, along with (of course), ubiquitous product samples, tastings, and myriad swag. (Oddly, Monsanto’s booth featured its branded, soy-based lip balm.)
But the worst cooptation came during the “educational sessions,” which should have been off limits to marketing. Numerous panels were hosted by industry players, including, “Dairy Innovations,” brought to you by (surprise!) the National Dairy Council, which also hosted a media-only session, as did others.
“Culinary” demos were offered by cooking experts such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey, and McNeil (maker of the fake sugar, Splenda). For attending several “Expo Impact Sessions,” described by ADA as “scientific and evidenced-based,” RDs could even earn continuing educational units. Who better to teach, “Are Sugars Toxic: What’s Wrong with Current Research?” than the Corn Refiners Association? I attended a silly session called “Snacking and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines” brought to me by the largest snacking experts in the nation, Frito-Lay, who also had a huge booth touting their deceptively-labeled “natural” products, nearby the monstrous booth hosted by parent company PepsiCo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.