Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Silencing its Members Who Object to McDonald’s Sponsoring Lunch?

2/28 Postscript: In happy news, Tara Marino reports that after an exchange with Lauren Fox (social media manager for AND), she will be reinstated. Fox claimed that Marino’s comments were not the reason for her removal but rather AND was deleting all non-members of the Academy. Marino provided her member number, which cleared things up. However, still no word back from the California affiliate.

I received the following email from registered dietitian Tara Marino who says she was recently “deleted” from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics LinkedIn group after expressing support for my report on the organization’s questionable corporate sponsors. (See previous post on a similar silencing attempt.)

Another member of the AND LinkedIn group had posted the Forbes article discussing your report and I commented saying things such as, I was happy others were speaking out and how upset I was about the choice of corporate sponsors. I also commented about my 2012 correspondence with the California Dietetic Association’s President, Nicole Ring and how she sounded like a McDonald’s spokesperson rather than a dietitian. I also said, I don’t know what I could do at this point aside from withdrawing my membership from the AND, which might have been what prompted them to delete me. Regardless, I am still a member of AND and to be deleted from the LinkedIn group for voicing my opinion was quite disturbing. I have tried to message the AND LinkedIn group manager, Lauren Fox, but I’m not able to email others unless I upgrade to a paid account.  

And here is the email exchange that she references:

(Sent by Tara 3/23/2012 to ca_dietetic@dietitian.org)
To Whom it May Concern,

I was all set to attend this conference when I realized lunch is served by McDonald’s. Seriously? What is this about? As a registered dietitian that encourages people every day to make healthy food choices, avoid fast food and improve their eating habits, how big of a hypocrite does that make us to be served McDonald’s at our conference? 

I’m also disturbed by certain talks being sponsored by the beef council and dairy council. What does that mean? How is a talk on Meatless Monday sponsored by the beef council? My work was willing to pay for my flight, hotel and registration but I cannot bring myself to attend a meeting that can’t even offer a more nutritious lunch to a bunch of health professionals. 

I am saddened and disheartened by the influence of these powerful organizations permeating the CDA and I wish that I was able to attend a conference I could feel good about being apart of. We live in California, surely there are better options for lunch sponsors and means to put on a conference without financial support from organizations that support exactly what we are trying to guide people away from.

Sincerely,

Tara Marino, RD

(Response received 4/19/2012)
Hello Ms. Marino,

I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to reach out to us and I would like to address your concerns. When it comes to sponsorships we look to organizations and associations who support the mission and vision of the California Dietetic Association, which includes a variety of non-profits and corporations. The purpose for Annual Meeting is to provide educational opportunities for our members to be able to stay abreast with all that is going on related to our field of expertise.

With regards to your questions regarding McDonald’s – as dietitians, we are trained to educate our patients/clients on moderation, balance and variety as a means to develop healthy eating habits. With that said, we typically don’t label foods as bad or good – but rather better-for-you choices, or those you should limit. Many people consider fast food “bad” because in the past, these types of restaurants had limited selections of better-for-you choices. Times have changed and many of these restaurants (especially McDonald’s) now offer a plethora of salads, fruits and even whole grains on the menu. How can we say that fast food is bad when these options are certainly available? If you have a client who is determined to go to McDonald’s everyday for lunch wouldn’t you prefer that they are informed of these better choices?

Additionally, McDonald’s is leading their industry when it comes to offering better-for-you options as other chains are starting to follow in providing more salads, fruits and whole grains. They also have an entire team of dietitians on staff who are helping the company lead the charge in offering these better items. I think that is something we as dietitians should be applauding. Further, why should fast food be considered bad? I have worked with all types of restaurants for over 8 years conducting nutrition analysis for menu items and I can attest that there are many other types of establishments (from family restaurants all the way to high-end) who are inferior to McDonald’s and “fast food” when it comes to offering better-for-you options.

In terms of our lunch offering, yes, we allow McDonald’s to sponsor the lunch because we want to be able to inform attendees of the healthier choices that are available and allow dietitians the opportunity to taste first-hand what these better-for-you choices are. And, having a sponsor allows us to keep the attendance fees lower. During these tough economic times, it is difficult for us to generate interest in sponsors for our lunch, but McDonald’s was able to do so.

I am sorry that you have made the decision not to attend based on the proposed agenda. I think if you are able to come, you may be surprised with all that we have to offer.

Again, I do appreciate your feedback and I would encourage you volunteer with us next year as we plan for the 2013 Annual Meeting.

Thank you,

Nicole Quartuccio Ring, RD
President, 2011 – 2012
California Dietetic Association
president@dietitian.org

(Sent from Tara 4/23/2012)
Dear Ms. Ring,

Thank you for your reply and the time you’ve taken to address my concerns. I truly wish your words justified the CDA choosing McDonald’s as a sponsor for the 2012 conference. I expected this would be the response I would get—that McDonald’s now offers healthy options; that we should educate people on low-cost, healthy choices, etc. However, the reality is that McDonald’s is the only one benefiting from this opportunity (aside from the monetary support the CDA is receiving). The impact of their sponsorship is that registered dietitians, such as myself, who are attending the conference are put in the position of endorsing McDonald’s. This not only flies in the face of the education we offer our clients, but also severely damages the integrity of the California Dietetics Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

I have worked in community nutrition, among low-income people of all ages, for over 10 years. I have seen first-hand the impact that fast food restaurants have on these populations. More often than not, low-income neighborhoods are full of fast food restaurants, with no grocery store in sight. Yes, we’d like to think that now that McDonald’s has healthy options that people will choose the healthy salads, but oftentimes those salads are more expensive, and it’s not realistic to assume that people will choose the healthier option just because it’s provided. Do you believe a person with limited income and health education (especially children and young adults) is going to walk into a McDonald’s and choose a salad and apple slices while being embraced with the scent of french fries and burgers? McDonald’s is not a health leader of any sort, and they have only begun to offer “healthy options” as an effort to deflect the negative press they continually receive as a result of the role they’ve played in contributing to our population’s obesity epidemic. McDonald’s has been a leader in getting Americans to eat as much high-fructose corn syrup, fat, and salt as they possibly can. I could quote one article after another citing the impact fast food restaurants have on obesity rates, but I’m sure you, as well as our fellow dietitians, are aware of these facts. 

From your response, it sounds like you’re advocating more for McDonald’s rather than the CDA. Good for McDonald’s that they are striving to offer more “better for you” options, but it is not our place, as advocates for our clients and patients, to promote them as a healthy choice.

I agree with you about moderation, but serving McDonald’s at a conference for registered dietitians is making a mockery of our profession. We are continually striving to be taken more seriously by the medical community and this is exactly the kind of decision-making that causes us to take steps backward. Each and every person I’ve mentioned this to, whether in the nutrition profession or not, has seen the absurdity of this choice of sponsorship. As one person said, it’s like having Marlboro sponsor an American Heart Association conference. I think that’s a pretty fair comparison. 

I would love to attend next year’s conference should there be a more responsible choice of sponsors. I’d be happy to offer my time to help acquire more suitable sponsors as well. 

Sincerely,

Tara Marino, RD

(Response received 4/23/2012)
Hi Tara,

I hope it’s ok that I use your first name. We are having an Executive Board meeting this Wednesday (before the Annual Meeting) and I will be sharing your points of view with the board as we will be evaluating our sponsorship policies during the meeting. So, thank you for sending this second email.

We would love for you to participate in the planning process next year, and I will pass along your contact info to the committee so they can contact you.

Respectfully, 

Nicole Quartuccio Ring, RD
President, 2011 – 2012
California Dietetic Association
www.dietitian.org 
President@dietitian.org

(Sent by Tara 4/24/2012)
Thank you, Nicole. I appreciate you passing my feedback on to the board.

5 Responses to “Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Silencing its Members Who Object to McDonald’s Sponsoring Lunch?”

  1. Brooke Warner says:

    This email chain is so enlightening. Ms. Quartuccio Ring sounds like she’s doing an advertisement for McDonald’s in her first response to Ms. Marino. I wouldn’t be surprised if McDonald’s has sent talking points to RDs like Ms. Quartuccio Ring. Bottom line here: Money is more important than making choices that reflect the California Dietetic Association’s values. Very disheartening. Good for Ms. Marino for speaking up and being a true advocate. After all, isn’t that why you’d want to become an RD in the first place? As a lay citizen I truly hope the CDA will change their tune.

  2. Christine McKnelly says:

    Ouch. Good for Ms. Marino. I’ve worked in community nutrition for about 17 years and agree: while we don’t “label foods as good or bad,” we have a responsibility to make healthy choices easier… even if those people are dietitians attending an annual meeting.

    In my state (Arkansas) I’ve been quite pleased by the healthy choices offered at our annual meetings. However, we do receive sponsorships from the Beef Council — something that has always left me feeling uncomfortable. (And it’s rather humorous when so many attendees order vegetarian lunches at the Beef Council’s sponsored lunch.)

  3. Hello,
    This is all very fascinating, although unfortunately becoming the norm. We must continue to talk back to our professional associations about their questionable sponsorship choices. I commend Ms. Marino and many others for doing so. I was just notified of this particular issue because the facebook group I belong to (Dietitians for Professional Integrity) posted a memo about it. When I first saw the group on facebook, I wondered what dietitians would be against professional integrity, but that’s another story.

    My specific reply is related to the invitation Ms. Marino received to help organize next years conference. At first blush this sounds so collaborative and friendly. After further consideration, this invitation is not as great as it sounds. What the invitation represents is a strategy that large organizations use to further marginalize minority views.

    Let me elaborate. What Ms. Marino is pointing out and asking to have changed is pretty straightforward – don’t accept funding for our professional meetings from certain food industry multi-nationals. Simple. Will the association only be able to accomplish this if Ms. Marino helps out the organization by sitting on the planning committee? No. Ms. Marino pointed out the error of the planning committee and now they can do things differently next year. Ms. Marino is a busy professional. She may be flattered to be invited to help, but that is not what she was expressing to the AND.

    I speak from experience. Having Ms. Marino as a representative of all those who feel similarly about this situation sit on the planning committee is not a solution. We want those who are already on the planning committee to do things differently ALL ON THEIR OWN.

    What happens with the Ms. Marino’s of our profession join on these committees is that their views are co-opted by the dominant views. Then when the planning committee decides that they can’t change sponsors, they have Ms. Marino on the committee to help justify their decision (if Ms. Marino hasn’t stepped down already). Ms. Marino has spent hours of her own time on the committee where the decision has not changed and drained her resources dry in an effort to bring change and very likely none will occur.

    We need AND and Dietitians of Canada representatives to step up and make these decisions on their own. We need these representatives to listen to members views and act on those views with integrity.

    Ms. Marino, I don’t know you, but I share your perspective on this issue. I urge you to consider carefully how you respond to this invitation and I urge others to watch for this strategy in the future when you offer critical feedback on related issues. Let us know what happens!

    Sincerely,
    Jacqui Gingras, PhD, RD
    Canadian Dietitian

    • Tara says:

      Hi Jacqui,
      You’re absolutely right that they should be able to acquire suitable sponsors on their own. The reality is this was all from last year and after Nicole suggested that I help in finding better sponsors, there was no follow-up the rest of the year and no word from the board. Seems they just continued on with their current sponsors and even had McDonald’s go ahead and serve lunch again this year. The CDA and AND are in a sad state but at least people are now talking and it seems like change is on the horizon. We hope.
      Thank you for your response.
      Tara

  4. Stephen Albers says:

    Dear MS Ring:

    As a consumer I would like to add my small voice to the RDs protesting the infiltration of your organization by the moneyed junk food industry. Even with the modest exposure I have, as an informed consumer, it is crystal clear to me that the CDA and AND have no credibility in the nutrition field. The relentless state of deteriorating public health has occurred while they claim leadership. Instead of leading the field, any progress in advancing nutrition science has been through the efforts of outside innovators, certainly not either CDA or AND. Responsibility for this monumental disaster is the transparent shams of “there are no bad foods” along with “moderation” crafted by the junk food industry no doubt. All meat, dairy and refined food products are chronically toxic VERY VERY VERY BAD foods and moderation of them is ruining the lives of countless millions of people and bankrupting the country. Anyone who reads just a sampling of the science literature knows that. Therefore, either the your management do not read nutrition literature or they are satisfied to pimp for the junk food industry in spite of the damage it causes. Further, anyone with even a modest familiarity with propaganda knows the harried masses cannot withstand skillfully crafted ad campaigns, especially for dependent substances.

    Rest assured, the public is catching on to food scams and, like alcohol and tobacco will soon take steps to defend public health. Every RD I have talked to about this deplores the hijacking of their associations which are supposed to be science-based advocates for a level playing field for scholarly advancement of nutrition science instead of the mouth piece panderers of rapacious profit seeking. Accepting “sponsorship” is morally indefensible for any organization that pretends to professionalism. Putting an end to this reprehensible practice and censoring those who have promoted it is essential to start to repair the serious damage these practices have caused.

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