The Coca-Cola Company tells BeverageDaily.com it is fully committed to improving US health by partnering groups such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), after an advocacy report claimed undue big beverage influence on the body.
Michele Simon, president of industry watchdog Eat, Drink Politics, penned a report she claimed shows the too-close financial ties between big food/beverage and the AND, which counts 70,000+ registered dieticians (RDs) as members.
Within ‘And Now a Word from our Sponsors: Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?’, Simon claims that corporate sponsors such as PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company distort the accuracy of nutrition messages and use the AND as a PR vehicle.
Within the 51-page report, Simon complains that firms such as Coke (just one AND approved continuing education provider) hand-pick sympathetic experts to run sessions – with AND promising firms “marketing opportunities” – aligned with “corporate goals to sell more”.
Asked about some of the report’s takeaway conclusions by BeverageDaily.com, The Coca-Cola Company director of corporate external affairs, Rosalyn Kennedy, insisted that the firm believed in the importance of partnerships across all sectors.
Mission to optimize nation’s health
This reflected Coke’s ongoing efforts to “innovate and underscore the importance of an active, healthy lifestyle”, she added.
“We are proud supporters of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to help advance their mission of optimizing the nation’s health through food and nutrition research, education and advocacy.”
At AND’s Annual Meeting in 2012, Robert Nieman, MD, teaching a webinar on Coke’s behalf, dismissed parental concerns about excess sugar consumption by kids as an “urban myth”, she said, in a webinar he gave on Children’s Dietary Recommendations.
Simon links this to her maintenance that the food industry was in the “selling-more-food business”, rather than the education business.
Truly surreal ‘junk food expo’ – Simon
Dismissing the 2012 conference as “truly surreal” and a “junk food expo”, rather than (as billed) a nutrition conference, Simon said the AND’s education failures had worsened the US “chronic disease epidemic”, before wondering if Coke’s sponsorship had played a role.
Simon said that of members (3,000 were questioned in 2011 by independent researchers led by Colby Vorland) believed that three current AND sponsors were unacceptable, namely Coca-Cola (66%) Pepsi (66%) and Mars (55%).
Summing up, Simon quoted Michael Siegel, Boston University School of Public Health, approvingly: “Concurrent with its acceptance of money from Coke, AND has actually become an enemy of critical public health measures to reduce obesity…”
‘Opinions are not facts’ – AND president
But dismissing Simons’ report as a mixture of facts, opinion and speculation, AND president Ethan Bergman said:
“The majority of the report consists of publicly available facts filtered through the author’s opinions. She is, of course, entitled to her opinions. But opinions are not facts.”
There was one undisputable fact about AND’s sponsorship programme, Bergman added, that the organization had one.
He urged AND members to seek out the facts, while not taking seriously the opinions of one with a previous “predisposition to find fault with the academy”.
Glossing the meaning Bergman’s words, influential blogger and academic Marion Nestle wrote last Thursday: “My interpretation: ignore the message because the messenger is not one of us.”
“[But] as nutrition professionals, we ignore such messages at our peril. If we want the public to trust what we say, our views cannot be perceived as compromised by financial ties to food companies,” she added.
PepsiCo did not reply to a BeverageDaily.com request for comment.