In her latest report And Now a Word From Our Sponsors, public health attorney and author Michele Simon questions the impact of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) being sponsored by companies like Coke and Pepsi. AND (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is to registered dieticians (RDs) what the American Medical Association (AMA) is to medical doctors (MDs). So having soda companies sponsor AND undermines the message “RDs = Nutrition Experts.” With the science linking soda to poor health it’s obscene that RDs can earn continuing education units from Coca-Cola.
What if the AMA was tied to cigarette companies the way AND is tied to soda companies? It’s hard to believe now, but that was the case for many decades as documented in The Doctors’ Choice Is America’s Choice: The Physician in US Cigarette Advertisements, 1930–1953.
Any fears that smoking might be harmful were also easily contradicted by the physician’s being a smoker himself…Tobacco companies’ participation in medical conventions provided a clear example of their efforts to appeal to physicians. For example, social commentator Bernard Devoto described the exhibit hall of the 1947 American Medical Association (AMA) convention in Atlantic City, where doctors “lined up by the hundred” to receive free cigarettes.25 At the 1942 AMA annual convention, Philip Morris provided a lounge in which doctors could relax and socialize. The lounge, an advertisement explained, was “designed for your comfort. Drop in. Rest . . . read . . . smoke . . . or just chat”26
Flashforward to today and you can see many similarities to the tobacco companies as Coke and Pepsi use AND in their efforts to deflect the negative publicity about soda. It’s obvious they have AND’s ear and are getting what they paid for when AND responds to criticisms over corporate sponsorship with posts like What Our Corporate Sponsors Think.
“We are proud to partner with the American Dietetic Association, one of the country’s leading authorities in health and nutrition education. Our partnership with the American Dietetic Association is central to our efforts to continually provide consumers with innovative options that meet their hydration needs and ever-changing tastes and information that allows them to make informed decisions about their personal wellbeing. Like ADA, Coca-Cola understands that a healthy lifestyle involves balancing many different elements — staying physically active, consuming a balanced diet, getting enough rest — and even keeping a positive attitude.”— Rhona Applebaum, PhD, Vice President, Chief Scientific & Regulatory Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
The AMA wouldn’t publicly acknowledge the harms of cigarette smoking until 1978. How long will AND continue to accept money from Coke and Pepsi? It will depend on the willingness of RDs and the public to speak out and demand change.