Health

US premier nutrition advisory group took $4m from junk food makers

America’s premier nutrition advisory group has financial ties to some of the nation’s biggest junk food makers, according to reports.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is a standard-setting body that outlines best practices for the nation’s nutritionists and advises policy-makers on public health issues. For many, it is seen as the premier authority on diets and healthy eating.

Yet documents show it took more than $4 million in donations from companies like PepsiCo, Hershey and Nestlé between 2011 and 2017 – in a potential conflict of interest.

Documents released via FOIA and examined in a report published in Public Health Nutrition exposed the extent of the relationships.

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Coca-Cola was one of the junk food companies which partnered with the dietician’s Academy, giving over $477,000. Its relationship ended with the advisory body in 2015

Who gave the Academy what between 2011-17? 

PepsiCo – $486,000

Coca-Cola – $477,000

Hershey – $368,000

Nestlé – $200,000

National Diary Council – $1.5 million

Conagra, owning brands such as Slim Jim, Duncan Hines, Reddi-wip and Chef Boyardee – $1.4 million

The Academy has been criticized for its relationships with processed food companies since 2013, but the documents released have exposed the true extent of the financial dealings.

They suggest the group took more than $486,000 from PepsiCo, the makers behind sugar-filled Pepsi, and more than $477,000 from Coca-Cola.

A 2014 email from influential Academy member Donna Martin said: ‘The only flag that I saw was that PepsiCo is one of our top ten stocks (in which the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has invested). 

‘I personally like Pepsico and do not have any problems with us owning it, but I wonder if someone will say something about that. Hopefully they will be happy like they should be! I personally would be OK if we owned Coke stock!!’

At the same time the email was sent, the Academy was in talks with Subway about how the Academy could promote the brand’s ‘healthier products’, The Guardian reported.

Baby formula maker Abbott donated more than $100,000 to the Academy in 2011 and made consistent donations between 2013 and 2017. 

Emails from 2015 reveal that the pair were talking about how the Academy could use its reach over dieticians to push Pediasure, amid Abbott’s two-year, $300,000 sponsorship deal.

Pediasure, a mixture of soy and cow’s milk, is routinely handed out by pediatricians across the US, despite doubts over its health benefits for children.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of US Right to Know, and a co-author of the study told The Guardian: ‘That is astounding. That belongs in the conflict of interest hall of fame – it is off the charts.’

The Academy called the report ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’ on its website.

It said it had in place ‘stringent guidelines and principles that prohibit external influence from sponsors or any other group or individual’, which were not mentioned in the report.

Coca-Cola ended its partnership with the Academy in 2015.

The sponsorship with Hershey ended in 2015 and PepsiCo in 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The WSJ said that the Academy had a list of 24 ‘supporters’ on its website, including the National Confectioners Association, who lobby for the candy industry including Hershey, Mondelez International, Mars, and the Jelly Belly Candy Company.

The page has since been removed by the Academy.

The papers were obtained by US Right to Know, a group which has its own controversial dealings. They admit accepting funding from Organic Consumers Association, a company associated with the anti-vaccine movement. 

On its website, it admits to accepting funding from a company associated with the anti-vaccine movement.


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