This guest post is written by my friend Emma Train, RD
In the movie Kindergarten Cop one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s students proclaims, “Everyone dies.”
Yes, everyone dies. And there are some in the nutrition industry who help accelerate that process.
The more egregious villains are the folks like the inexplicably popular David “Avocado” Wolfe, who uses his hair for brains and refers to chocolate as “an octave of sun energy” because it supposedly “lines up planetarily with the sun,” or some such hippie dippie bullshit. And since he thinks vitamins and “super foods” can cure cancer and that chemotherapy is the Mephistopheles incarnate, then people do actually die because of his moronic nutrition recommendations.
How is it possible that over 4 million people follow this guy on Facebook? Fuck David Wolfe and his stupid hairstyle too.
Speaking of Facebook, there is a meme I saw not long ago that said, “How to become a nutritionist. Step 1: Start calling yourself a nutritionist.” That’s it. There is no Step 2. The reality is that any moron with an internet connection can start a Facebook page and launch a crappy WordPress blog and proclaim themselves experts in nutrition. Some of them might actually give good advice, while others send people down the road to disordered eating and perhaps earlier death.
The more alternative medicine minded might take a short, unaccredited online program so they can call themselves a “holistic nutritionist,” which is big on selling supplements, pushing “organic” and fear mongering over GMOs. Speaking of the latter and the fact that we began with discussing the truncation of life expectancies, such fear mongering is holding back technological advancements that could prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, as well as prevent blindness is many others.
In a time where spewing fear over alleged “toxins” in your food, attempting to eat the way cave people supposedly did, and putting butter in your coffee can equate to getting your book on the bestseller list, it can be hard to find reliable advice about nutrition in this bullshit-filled industry.
So where should you look?
Despite what I’m about to reveal later in this article, I recommend that people seek their nutrition advice from a Registered Dietitian (RD). Full disclosure: I am one. I chose to become an RD because it’s a science-based designation that requires completion of a four-year degree in nutrition from an accredited university program, followed by supervised practical training via an internship and regular continuing education to retain the designation.
I’m sure not all RDs give good information. Some embrace the bullshit and write books about how bread is the devil, but overall, we are a reliable source of science-based information on nutrition because of the rigorous and in-depth education we must complete.
Let’s go back to talking about death.
I live in Canada, and our citizens are dying. More than 4% of the country’s health budget is spent just on obesity, and another $20.9 billion per year is spent on heart disease and stroke. Up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable by adopting healthy behaviors, of which proper nutrition is a big part. Therefore, it is important to disseminate quality information to help save lives. This needs to be done well and without bias.
It doesn’t help remove bias when Dietitians of Canada (DC) is sponsored by the food industry.
DC is an association that accredits education and training programs for future Canadian RDs. In the U.S. their association is called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and it is equally influenced / sponsored by the food industry.
The food industry is in the business of making money by selling calories, often at the expense of the health of their customers. So while the majority of RDs are fighting the good fight to spread quality information about healthy eating to citizens on both sides of the border, our associations are taking money from food corporations and behaving in a way that may not lead to healthy recommendations for North Americans.
Here’s a nice little contradiction for you.
The code of ethics for the College of Dietitians of Alberta states: “The dietitian protects the public as their primary professional obligation.”
Wait for it …
Despite this, Dietitians of Canada has accepted sponsorship from food corporations such as Pepsico, Molson Coors, Tim Hortons, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Campbells and Nestle. As part of DC’s advertising for these sponsorships, states that food corporations can garner “national exposure of 3000 members who influence buying decisions in every major market.”
See the contradiction? The situation is no different in the United States with their dietetics association.
Registered Dietitians are reputable sources of knowledge because their qualifications are trustworthy and they are in a regulated profession. However, there are umbrella associations for RDs that are working at odds to the best interest of the general public.
Is allowing the food industry to sponsor educational events for dietitians tolerating the dissemination of concealed propaganda?
I’m not saying Registered Dietitians who are members of DC (or its American counterpart) are absolutely being influenced by the food industry sponsors, but it is possible that they aren’t always able to discern biased information. At the very least, these sponsorships don’t make RDs seem so reliable or trustworthy. I know a lot of RDs who hate the fact that DC and AND have such a close financial ties to the food industry; many refuse membership solely based on food industry sponsorship. We don’t think that companies known for profiting from the sale of sugar water should be sponsoring educational events for dietetic professionals.
Dietitians of Canada’s vision is: “Advancing health through food and nutrition.” That sounds great. That is what I endeavor to do. I just happen to think that to advance health through food and nutrition we need to cut the food industry out of the equation and think/fund for ourselves. You know, so we don’t end up being biased.
The reason why I bring this all up now is because today, March 1st, is the beginning of “Nutrition Month” on both sides of the border. Sarcastic hooray!
And yes, there is plenty o’ food industry sponsorship involved to influence the direction that Nutrition Month takes. This year the Canadian sponsors beans and milk, which certainly isn’t so bad compared to soda companies, but watch for how such sponsors can influence the recipes that are recommend this month.
I’ve decided to use this month to interview some unbiased experts who I consider to be actual reliable sources of nutrition information. These 31 interview subjects include health policy makers, healthcare experts, entrepreneurs and communicators. They’re all respected experts in their individual fields, so rather that buying into the industry-sponsored Nutrition Month, I hope that instead you’ll visit my site at www.InYourFaceNutrition.com each day of March to read a new interview.
And to get you interested to drop by, the first interview is with James Fell. We had a nice little chat about his motherfucking lasagna. Read my interview with James here.
Update by the Author
Shortly after this post was published a representative of Dietitians of Canada contacted me. DC was in disagreement over my use of the word “sponsorship,” so I wish to clarify a few things.
Regarding the use of the word “sponsor,” what I meant is that DC sells advertising opportunities called Private Sector Relationships (PSRs) to businesses for direct marketing purposes to their dietitian members. These adverts are in member-only spaces on the DC website and in their newsletter. Food corporations can also pay for onetime use mailing labels to directly mail product information to DC members for 50 cents per name.
The financial opportunities for various PSRs include corporate sponsorship funds for member-targeted events (national conferences), student awards (cash prizes), regional conferences, webinars, online learning programs and Nutrition Month campaigns.
DC states that it does not allow PSRs to introduce bias into the design or content of its professional development events/programs and they disclose conflicts of interest. I do acknowledge that DC has taken steps to improve their policies and actions in the realm of these PSRs. Using this year as an example: I do prefer a lentil and dairy-funded Nutrition Month over a Hellman’s-funded Nutrition Month.
Associations closely tied to dietitians (and accredit institutions that educate dietitians) do take money from the food industry. What the food industry is buying is the ability to advertise to the member dietitians, which may result in bias introduced that trickles down into the everyday recommendations made by registered dietitians to people across North America. This is a reality that many RDs are upset about.
It’s worth noting that it is not just in dietetics for which this is an issue. This piece covers the subject of corporate influence in continuing medical education.