"The fact that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was a part owner of ultra-processed food companies should go down in the conflict of interest Hall of Fame."Gary Ruskin, Executive Director, U.S. Right to Know
The following is an excerpt from MedPage Today.
A large U.S. nutrition group and its foundation have a "symbiotic" relationship with the food and pharmaceutical industries, according to public health researchers.
In an analysis of documents obtained via a freedom of information request, key leadership for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) hold important positions in multinational food and agribusiness companies, according to Angela Carriedo, PhD, of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, and colleagues.
The AND has also invested funds in corporations such as Nestle, PepsiCo, and pharmaceutical companies, and has accepted substantial corporate financial contributions, Carriedo and colleagues reported in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
"The big picture here is that obesity and type two diabetes, of course, are diseases that individual people suffer, but they're also diseases of corporate influence," Ruskin said.
"The ultra-processed food industry uses its influence to hook people on its products and it is able to corrupt health groups like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to legitimize and perpetuate its hold on our nation's stomachs, and that's why this is important."
In a statement, the AND responded to what it described as "misleading and false allegations" in the report, calling it a "calculated attack" against nutrition and dietetics professionals. "The report contains numerous factual and methodology errors, omissions, and information taken out of context," the statement said.
"Academy members are advocates for shaping policies and practices to advance positive food choices that improve the health and nutrition of the public," the statement continued. "Through their assumptions, omissions, and distortions, the authors of the report have done a serious disservice to the Academy, our members and the entire nutrition and dietetics profession."
For their report, Ruskin and colleagues analyzed academy documents from 2014 to 2020 that were obtained through freedom of information requests, and cross-referenced that information with publicly available data.
Several companies were found to have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the academy and its foundation, including:
- National Dairy Council (gave $1,496,912)
- Conagra Inc. ($1,414,058)
- Abbott Nutrition ($1,246,389)
- PepsiCo Inc. ($486,335)
- Coca-Cola Co. ($477,577)
- Hershey Co. ($368,032)
- General Mills Inc. ($309,733)
- Kellogg USA ($273,272)
Ruskin said these contributions were part of a "quid pro quo" that included "rights and benefits" for the corporate sponsors. Ruskin and co-authors wrote that the documents revealed "several cases when [the academy] has legitimized some corporate positions."
Indeed, Ruskin and co-authors found several incidents where the academy acted to influence other organizations and the public by providing supporting evidence for those industry sponsors.
In terms of the AND's investments, internal documents from 2015 to 2016 show the organization invested in the stock of several food and pharmaceutical companies, including Abbott, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Merck, PepsiCo, Nestle, and J.M. Smucker's Company.
As for conflicts of interest among its leadership, the report cites how a director of AND, Milton Stokes, worked for Monsanto. That company contributed $175,000 to the AND Foundation, and established a communications advisory group with AND members.
"Although AND has changed some of its internal policies to manage corporate interference and funding," they wrote, "it continues to advance corporate interests in several ways and serves as a voice for its corporate sponsors."
Read entire article here.