There’s been quite a stir over the past week over the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics decision to allow Kraft® to use their “Kids Eat Right” logo on the Kraft Singles® product.
Among registered dietitian members, there is not really much disagreement over whether the Academy should allow brands to use a logo that gives the impression that they are endorsing that product. Endorsement, or even the perception of it, is a bad idea. Most everyone agrees that allowing Kraft® to use the seal was a poor decision that was communicated to Academy membership very poorly.
Certainly, it was also misconstrued by the media. No matter how much the perception of the endorsement is at the heart of the issue, the fact that it was a processed cheese product is what really hit a nerve (not to mention all of the negative press that accompanied it).
The interesting question however is not what dietitians or news reporters think, but what consumers at large think about registered dietitians. As an Academy member, I personally wrote a letter to the CEO, House Of Delegates, and President, disagreeing with the idea of ‘endorsing’ or ‘appearing to endorse’ specific brands, and also encouraging better transparency and communication.
As far as the cheese goes, if a client enjoys a certain processed cheese, I can make recommendations around it to balance his diet.
Who Cut the Cheese?
I have chosen to keep my sense of humor and try to stay positive here. I know that cheese, or even processed food, is not the underlying issues here with most of my colleagues. How partnerships with food companies can work without conflict of interest, is a question. Can dietitians, or any professional, make recommendations if they are exposed to or working with brands? Since I work within an evidence-based profession that already has a Code of Ethics, I think they can. But the Academy needs to consider putting some additional guidelines in place that will help them make future decisions about partnering with the food industry.
Also important to note is that Kids Eat Right is a program launched in 2010 and sponsored by the Academy Foundation (a non-profit 501c charitable organization, supported by donations). They do all sorts of wonderful things such as award scholarships to college students pursuing degrees in nutrition, award mini grants to provide nutrition education to children and provide educational resources to help families raise healthy children.
But all that warm and fuzzy stuff aside, the Times piece took on a life of its own (even The Daily Show included the story in their junk food smack down, and Fox News asks if processed cheese is all bad), so naturally, with all of this negative press and focus on cheese, a lot of people, including dietitians, are up in arms. Why? Well, because this convoluted news demeans our profession and all of the positive action and programs that are provided be good, competent, well-trained folks.
Food, Nutrition and Groceries
Here’s the deal. Whether an organization that represents food and nutrition experts would choose to partner with a perceived ‘healthy’ or ‘junk’ food company, the fact remains that people eat food that they purchase from grocery stores.
Dietitians are humans just like everyone else. We each have food preferences and taste buds, food budgets, cultural backgrounds, and available grocery stores, that influence how we eat. We mostly work on “healthy” as much as we can.
Consider, that if you live to be age 75, that’s about 27,010 days of eating – That’s a lot of days to never eat a “processed” or packaged food.
While we may be in the business of health, we are also in the business of helping meet people where they are, and helping them make the healthiest choices they can afford, and live with.
There are other organizations that claim to be interested in nutrition and public health, but may have different agendas (and whose donors remain anonymous. The Academy however is pretty transparent about who their partners are).
I’ve been a registered dietitian since 1991 and have been working in this field since 1986. People who seek advice or collaboration, get it from the people that they can relate to. I can’t claim to help people live a Paleo or Vegan lifestyle. It’s not my thing. Therefore people will seek me out for my specific skill set, and seek out others for theirs.
Nothing wrong with that. Cheese. No cheese. Seal. No seal.