Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Food Company Sponsorships - American Dietetic Association Partners with Hersheys

Recently the American Dietetic Association (ADA) announced a partnership with Hershey's Center for Health & Nutrition (yes the candy folks). As a dietitian and member of ADA, I belong to a few Dietetic Practice Groups. These are sub-groups of the ADA that focus on specific issues dietitians are interested in. So, I belong to the Food and Culinary Professionals (FCP) DPG and the Hunger & Environmental (HEN) DPG...among others. You can visit the ADA's website to read more about what these DPGs are about the American Dietetic Association's website.

The FCP DPG has many dietitians that work in the food industry in many different supermarket RDs (like me), chefs for restaurants or food companies, public relations professionals, etc. Anyway, there wasn't much of a peep on the FCP listserv when this announcement (press release) came out on July 19th, however the HEN listserv was going bonkers with dietitians outraged at the idea that ADA would partner with Hershey's.

Now, I've never been one to sell my soul to the devil and I can honestly say that working hand-in-hand with corporate food-America has actually broadened my perspective and flexed my intellectual muscles in regards to what my ethical responsibilities are as a dietitian. Here, I will say it - I am not against ADA obtaining corporate sponsorships with Coca Cola or PepsiCo or even Hershey's. I do think there are boundaries and guidelines to be established. I'll admit, I don't know what they are currently for ADA, but as a dietitian who has been on both sides of the table (sort of speak), it might be helpful for you to hear the perspective of a dietitian that works closely with the industry.

In my opinion, it is easy to sit on a soap box and profess disgust with a health organization accepting money for sponsorship(s), however, I also strongly believe that it is absolutely necessary for dietitians to work with industry to improve the health of Americans. It sure is easy to get persuaded by money, but it also takes a lot of guts, thoughts and energy to find ways to create win-wins. There is no easy solution here nor is there one-way to do things - I don't think all of the dietitians
in opposition of corporate sponsorship really understand what that means for the American Dietetic Association.... corporate sponsorships are NOT just about defraying costs (that is a nice PERK which makes our conferences, dues and other ADA events more affordable)...there is a BIGGER picture here. Working together with multi-billion dollar industries like Hershey's, Coca-Cola, Kraft (et al.) offers a world of opportunities...

+ Many of these corporations fund research or have their own research
institutions; influence development of new products with research
findings; leverage research relationship to uncover other information
not related to the promotion of a particular product but rather gain
valuable insights I the areas of shopper behavior, taste preferences,
nutrition knowledge.

+ Corporate America has extremely strong relationships with the media
and could help set the record straight on health information, etc.

+ Companies love tax write-offs...great $ to fund dietetic scholarships,
education, nutrition education projects, etc.

+ There are many other benefits that I'm sure I missed! There are also challenges in these sort of corporate sponsorships but that is why we have educated minds to identify and set boundaries so that they are transparent relationships that ultimately benefit the consumer (or eaters!)

I think the instinctual (egoic) gut reaction is to blame ADA for "selling their soul for money," but more importantly, as dietitians, we need to find more ways to join forces with the food industry to change the eating environment (and choices) to improve what is on everyones plate. I'm not going to poke fun at ADA or criticize -- I'm going to provide some insight, thoughts and solutions. Sure, these "sponsorships" can send a confusing message to the public but it's up to us to set the record straight. Are you up to the challenge Jane Doe Dietitian?!

I'd love to hear your thoughts....Some wise man once said, "smooth seas never made a skilled mariner"...

Thanks for listening.