The ADA’s Corporate Sponsorship

The American Dietetic Association aims to promote “optimal nutrition, health and well-being,” according to its website, by “translating the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living.”

A recent article in lefty mag In These Times, however, suggests that the ADA is also promoting some questionable corporate tie-ins. Author Jacob Wheeler attended the ADA’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, and found dietitians shilling for Taco Bell and McDonald’s, as well as a PR rep from Monsanto. The conference was sponsored by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which just launched a new over-the-counter diet pill, leading Wheeler to ask:

Why … was a diet pill promoted at the ADA’s annual keynote event when the most important factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to eat right (the ADA’s website, after all, is http://www.eatright.org)? And how did ‘the nation’s food and nutrition experts’ stray from promoting the fruits, vegetables and whole grains featured on the covers of their books? Could it be related to the more than $10,000 that [GlaxoSmithKline] contributed to ADA as a corporate sponsor within the last year? ADA’s other corporate sponsors include Unilever, National Dairy Council, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Mars Inc. and Abbott Nutrition.

The ADA solicits corporate sponsorship within certain guidelines, but it has also taken stances that might not be popular with big business, including advocating limiting soda in schools.

The article goes on to note that the ADA has been silent about the local food movement, and hasn’t exactly embraced organics. Its official public relations stance is that “Research shows that nutritionally there is no evidence that organic produce is better or safer than conventionally grown produce.” Increasing evidence, however, suggests that the organization might want to take a second look at that stand.

So what’s up with the ADA? As Wheeler notes, “The valuable local food lessons of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma seem not to have registered at the ADA—or, at least, not enough to have supplanted its need to court corporate sponsors for its annual conference.”

It took the association a few decades to deem vegetarian diets acceptable. Give it a few more to embrace sustainability.

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