A group that shapes its nutrition policy has made millions from junk food makers

A group that shapes its nutrition policy has made millions from junk food makers


Few institutions have as much influence on public eating habits as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which helps shape national food policy and trains thousands of dietitians who help people decide what to eat.

But newly released documents show the academy has a long history of financial ties to big food companies, many of which sell and market ultra-processed foods that have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and diabetes. other chronic diseases.

The documents, described in a report published Monday in Public Health Nutrition, a peer-reviewed journal, include thousands of pages of the academy’s financial records, tax returns and internal emails. They show that between 2011 and 2017, the organization received more than $4 million in donations from food companies and industry groups, including some of the world’s largest producers of soda, sugar, candy and food. ultra-processed, such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Hershey, Kellogg’s and Conagra.

The academy not only accepted sponsorship money from major food companies, but also invested money in food industry stocks. For example, the documents show that in 2015 and 2016, the academy owned more than $1 million worth of PepsiCo, Nestlé and JM Smucker stock.

The documents were obtained by US Right to Know, an investigative group long at odds with big food companies but also grappling with its own controversies. US Right to Know revealed on its website that it accepts funding from the Organic Consumers Association, which has been linked to the anti-vaccine movement. The organization also said it was investigating uncertainty about the origins of covid-19.

The academy has long been criticized for partnering with processed food companies, but the extent of its financial ties to the food industry has not been made public.

In a statement, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics called the new report inaccurate and misleading, and said it had strict guidelines and principles for its sponsors and supporters, which “prohibit the influence exterior”.

“The Academy’s programs, leadership, decisions, policies and positions are not influenced by sponsors,” he said in his statement. “The Academy’s procedures and formal agreements with outside organizations are designed to prevent undue corporate influence.”

The academy said less than 9% of its funding came from sponsorships and less than 3% of it and its foundation investments came from food companies. He said all sectors of the S&P 500 are represented in his equity portfolios.

The academy is a powerful force in the field of nutrition. It boasts of having 112,000 accredited practitioners, including tens of thousands of registered dietitian nutritionists and other nutrition professionals. Academy members lobby Congress on health issues and regularly serve on the advisory committee that shapes the federal government’s dietary guidelines for Americans.

Although the academy has been criticized for its ties to big food companies for years, it is a private organization and its confidential financial records are shielded from public scrutiny. The new trove of documents only came to light because Donna Martin, a former academy president who works for a public school district in Georgia, used her school’s email for academy-related matters, placing such communications in the public domain.

US Right to Know says it spent five years acquiring more than 50,000 pages of documents largely through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The revelations provide a rare insight into how the food industry has maintained close relationships with the organizations and individuals who are believed to advise consumers on healthy eating. Here’s what the report found:

  • Many of the academy’s most significant contributions between 2011 and 2017 came from some of the world’s largest producers of soda, sugar, candy and ultra-processed foods. Conagra, which owns brands like Slim Jim, Duncan Hines, Reddi-wip and Chef Boyardee, gave the academy at least $1.4 million. PepsiCo provided more than $486,000 in funding, and Coca-Cola gave the academy at least $477,000. Hershey gave the academy about $368,000 and Nestlé gave the academy over $200,000 during this time.
  • The academy’s financial backers included sugar industry trade groups like the Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association, as well as influential lobby groups for the soda, beef, and dairy industries.
  • The National Dairy Council was one of the academy’s biggest sponsors, giving it at least $1.5 million between 2011 and 2017.
  • Records indicate that the academy recognized that certain levels of financial support gave contributors more influence. Companies that paid “sponsorship” fees were granted “specific rights and benefits”. Meanwhile, donors, licensors and supporters were defined as those who made “a charitable contribution without expectation of commercial return”.

Internal emails show that in 2014 Martin, who was then the group’s treasurer, dismissed ethical concerns about investing in PepsiCo and suggested in a message to another academy leader that he would be although the group also invests in Coca-Cola.

“I personally love PepsiCo and have no problem with us owning it, but I wonder if anyone will say anything about it,” wrote Martin, who could not be reached for a comment by the Washington Post. “I hope they will be happy as they should be! Personally, I would be ok if we had stock of Coke! »

“I’m amazed,” said Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and author of “Unsavory Truth,” a book about industry involvement. food in nutritional sciences. “These are people who are supposed to talk about healthy eating. How can they invest in companies that produce ultra-processed products and make people sick? »

The academy said its sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola and Hershey ended in 2015 and sponsorship from PepsiCo ended in 2016.

Today, the Academy lists more than two dozen “supporters” on its website, ranging from the Hass Avocado Board and Mushroom Council to Tate & Lyle, one of the world’s largest producers of high-potency corn syrup. in fructose and other sweeteners. Another of the group’s supporters is the National Confectioners Association, a trade and lobbying group for the confectionery industry whose members include Hershey, Mondelez International, Mars and the Jelly Belly Candy Company.

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