Needed: Much More than a Name Change

October 4, 2011 in Foodland, Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

I want to share with you a few of my observations made at the annual Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in San Diego (September 24-27, 2011). In today’s post I will discuss the American Dietetic Association’s (ADA) announcement of a name change; then, I will discuss my favorite meeting of the conference. First, the name change. The ADA is now to be known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The ADA has been seeking a new name for over a year that would “better suit our forward-thinking mission and vision: a name that addresses prevention and wellness as well as therapy……a name that reflects our science-based expertise.”

AND needs more than a name change

Of course, ADA……ooops…. AND did not ask its members to vote or even give any input regarding the name change. I personally don’t have a strong objection or a strong acceptance of the name change. But there are some issues that hopefully were considered.

    1. To illustrate one of these issues I’ll tell you about an experience that I had while at FNCE this year. I was walking around and a person, who was not an AND member, asked me, “How do these companies (She named off a few that were obviously not healthy foods.) get in here? Do they just pay a lot of extra money to get a booth? I had to reply, “No, they just pay the regular booth rate; there is no premium rate for junk foods.” My issue is that I believe that AND has to do more than just change its name. AND has to change its close association with ‘big food’ – you know, the people who process the subsidized cheap soy, corn, beef and grains. AND has to stop protecting the old adage that ‘there are no good foods, nor bad foods.’ The fact is that some foods do not support health and are implicated in increased obesity and disease. Most of us with common sense know that while you won’t drop over dead immediately, if you eat a diet of potato chips, soda pop, candy bars and, say… hot dogs, you will, however, not be optimally healthy. The odds are, that your years will be shorter and more unpleasant.


  1. This second argument is closely related. Another adage is that a calorie is a calorie; scientifically that is only true in a very narrow technical sense. I do know that there is plenty of research still going on directly related to that adage. But when the argument ‘a calorie is a calorie’ is used to make a point that sugar and high fructose corn syrup, for example, are perfectly fine to consume, it flies in the face of reason. What ever happened to the fact that sugar, and all of its caloric relatives are empty calories? What ever happened to the knowledge, that empty calories are not supplying the nutrients that protect the health of every cell in our body? The AND people must admit that there are huge differences in what calories of different foods deliver to the body. My disagreement with AND is that these little ‘sayings’ exist to sustain the acceptance of substantial financial support from the huge mega corporations that make the junk processed fudes – the food-like substances of which Michael Pollan has written; fudes that contribute to a lack of health. I believe that as long as AND accepts their financial support, they will be restrained in speaking out against the nutritionally impoverished, sugar, white flour and fat-filled, deleterious products.

    A friend of mind attended a FNCE session about ethics. What is really interesting is that the entire presentation was related to the ethics of the individual member of AND; none of the session addressed the ethics of the organization. Should AND be called upon to be ethical, as it expects its members to be? Is it ethical to accept funds from the companies that create and market health-damaging food-like substances? What about the ethics of the food companies whom make and market damaging but profitable foods? In promoting ethics in Nutrition and Diet, should not AND encourage ethical standards for the companies who profit from what and how people eat?

  2. Others have suggested that if we were going to make a costly name change, maybe a time when the economy was in a better position would have been better timing.
  3. Lastly, I feel that changing the name of an organization that has worked so hard for name recognition for so long, was indeed a risky decision. AND will now have to work doubly hard to market its new “brand.”

My favorite FNCE session 2011

My favorite session was a debate between Theresa Nicklas, D.P.H., M.P.H., Professor at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Barry M. Popkin Ph.D., also a Professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he directs UNC-CH’s Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity. (Popkin also studies obesity around the world and is the author of "The World is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products that are Fattening the Human Race, 2009".

If you haven’t read my articles enough to know where I stand, I’ll start this section by telling you that I am definitely loaded with much research information against uncontrolled use of sugar and the other caloric sweeteners. This research shows that sugar (and other caloric sweeteners) can replace foods that deliver the nutrients that help build and protect healthy cells and, therefore, healthy individuals. Now, back to the ‘sugary drinks’ debate between Nicklas and Popkin.

Nicklas maintained that evidence suggesting that sugary drinks played a major role in obesity was inconclusive, with some studies suggesting a link and others not. She also said that there was no evidence that a soda tax would decrease obesity, and if prices went up on soda, consumers would probably just switch to fruit juice instead. Ultimately, she said that singling out one nutrient or product group was not the way to address obesity. “If we’re going to tax soft drinks, why not tax pizza or donuts? We are fighting the wrong battle here. We need a total diet approach.”

My thoughts on Nicklas’ approach.

First, she ignores the research that tells us that liquid calories do not contribute to satiety for foods you will eat that day. That’s an important point – a point that was clearly made by Popkin. The fact is that if you’re taking in extra calories (especially the un-satiating empty calories of sugar drinks) it just seems logical that it can easily contribute to extra calories, resulting in weight gain. I especially rankled at Nicklas’ comment about singling out one nutrient. It reminded me of the tobacco companies’ argument that other things besides tobacco could cause cancer. While true, the argument only served the purpose of dragging out the tobacco battle. Popkin cited evidence that the big companies supported much of the conflicting research on sugary drinks, just as was years of confusing Tobacco research. Yes, I believe that it is true that we do need a total diet approach, but the huge load of sugar that is being consumed by so many is deleterious. A ‘total diet approach’ should be augmented by “picking off the low-hanging fruit” by going after the worst dietary offenders.

I recently read that Alabamians consume 77 gallons of soft drinks per person, the fourth most in the country (not the most, but the 4th most). Alabama also has the seventh highest obesity rate in the nation and the second worst diabetes rate. These statistics beg the question, “Could sugary drinks be contributing to these rates?” The American Medical Association published a study that showed that from 1977 to 2001 Americans doubled their consumption of soft drinks and during that same time obesity rates also doubled. Certainly that does not prove that the soft drinks caused the obesity, but it should be enough to make us want to find out if it is related or if it contributes in a significant manner. One of the first things that many successful weight losers/ weight loss maintainers do is to cut out soda pop and it helps in a big way -- if the individual drank soda before the weight loss. Drinking just one 20-ounce bottle of soda equals about 15 teaspoons of sugar (That’s a fourth cup, plus one additional tablespoon! Yikes!!! That’s a lot of un-nourishing calories – 240 calories. You get nothing for that 240 calorie investment; not a thing. Well, I guess that we could count the cavities in our teeth and possibly insulin resistance.)

If you’re a soda drinker (I’m not including diet soda here.) cut it out for a month – don’t replace it with fruit juice (while more nutritious, real juice has about the same calories), and see what happens to your weight. You will be pleasantly surprised; you may want to begin cutting other junk foods from your diet. One reference is: "Thin for Life; 10 keys to success from people who have lost weight and kept it off". Another reference idea is: The Boring Tortoise Technique.

Popkin made a research-based case that sugary drinks do not fill us up in the same way that an equal number of calories from solid foods do. This clearly makes it easy to gain weight if you’re taking in calories as a liquid. He said, “If we take in 200 calories in liquid, we won’t eat 200 fewer calories from foods [to compensate].” Popkin said that the source and type of calories consumed did matter. He said, that there is evidence suggesting that high consumption of refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour are examples of refined carbohydrates) increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic health problems. (This would include diabetes and pre-diabetes.) As related to Nicklas’ statement that the evidence being “inconclusive,” Popkin said that, “You can always say yes, we need more randomized controlled trials, but there comes a time when you have to take a stand….If we’d waited for all the evidence on tobacco to act we would still have been arguing about it in 2002.”

My thoughts on Popkin’s approach

Popkin’s comment on ‘type of calories consumed did matter' is essentially speaking to my complaint that AND still supports the ‘calorie is a calorie’ and ‘there are no good foods and bad foods’ type of arguments.

Confession: I applauded very vigorously and loudly for Dr. Popkin.

Let’s be sure that we use our common sense. While we know that pizza and donuts are also contributing to the obesity epidemic, let’s do what we can to begin today to get the message out that sugar drinks are contributing to a dangerous health problem. The public’s health -- lives of actual individuals -- is in the balance. Stop the ridiculous arguments that claim that all calories are equal; it’s scientifically correct in only the most narrow sense and increasing bodies of research are showing how flawed an argument it is. It is beside the point that it is an argument that soothes the big junk food companies and greases their donations. I have no power to guide AND, but I can only hope that I will one day see an ethical change that will keep dietitians and members of AND above the fray of biased allegiance toward the big donors that help AND function at the level to which they have become accustomed.