Conflict of Interest

October 29, 2013 in Foodland, General, Health Claims, Nutritionism, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

I like the term junk food; it’s so helpful. It gets right to the identification of the item as something that you’re not counting on to nourish yourself or your family. It says, “This is just a treat;” and “Too much of this stuff is not great for my health.”

I belong to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), formerly the American Dietetic Association. I’ve had a long-time personal complaint about the association. It is that the association allows …….. No, they solicit food processors to underwrite various needs of the organization. I know it’s very common in pharmacy and medicine too, but I’m just speaking here about nutrition/food/dietetics.

This is the problem as I see it: When you’re taking huge amounts of money from Mars Inc., Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s Corp. and many, many others to run your organization you learn that you must play nice.

One anecdotal example is that I used to post my articles on the Academy’s Knowledge Center, a site for dietitians to keep up on current information. Everything was fine for quite a while; many dietitians were reading my articles.  Then one day I said something not flattering about sugar consumption. For good health, sugar consumption should be strongly limited. It was almost instant that an AND official associated with the site (which is supported by Mars Inc.) notified me that I could no longer post on the site. To make it appear very impartial they said they would no longer accept ‘blog’ articles. That was several years ago, now SoyJoy, a company that tries to make an apparently healthier candy bar supports the site. The point is that an organization like AND is not able to allow research-based comments or information, if it is contrary to the support of BIG FOOD.

The ADA, now the AND has a long-standing position that “all foods can fit into a healthy diet.” While I believe that on a certain level, I know that it does not mean you can fit junk food into your diet every day and in generous amounts, without gaining too much weight and/or under nourishing oneself. We need nourishing food to keep ourselves optimally healthy; when we displace nutritious food with junk food we are lessening the nutrients that keep us healthy. Or we can add the junk food to an optimally healthy diet, but then we get extra calories. Or we can add a small amount of the junk food to an optimally healthy diet and get some physical activity and probably be just fine. The crux is in the amounts.  Sugar is not harmful in small quantities, or in its natural state in fruits and vegetables, full of fiber to slow down its entry into the blood stream. Big Food wants people to buy as much as possible, whether of sugar itself, or of the many foods made cheaper and sweeter by displacing the natural food with cheaper sugar by weight – like the sugar-free applesauce I just bought for $1.00 more than the sweetened.

The AND released a new position statement this year; it can be paraphrased to say ‘there is no such thing as good and bad foods, only good and bad diets.’ When I read the paper this past winter, I rolled my eyes and said to myself, “What’s new?” It’s just one more way of saying; “We want to say there are no bad foods, ‘cause we’re taking too much money from the processors of the junk foods to say it out loud.” Some junk foods are so bad that eating them once a week is probably too often, but as long as you say there are no bad foods, and do not mention quantity or frequency, Big Food can push you to buy and eat as much as they can induce you to do.

One of the issues the paper touches on is that labeling foods as bad “can cause many people to abandon efforts to make dietary improvements.” In addition, it says; “it can foster unhealthy eating behaviors.” The evidence for these statements is scanty or anecdotal.

This argument has repeatedly been used against the American public when the food industry uses the position to justify an opposition to government interference in the promotion of processed junk foods and beverages.

You do not need to be a graduate-level nutritionist/dietitian; most people know that eating too much junk food is not healthy; regardless of AND’s conflict of interest. Remember the story of Tony Posnanski? He like hundreds of others, lost weight by incrementally changing his eating style. He knew he could not eat mounds of candy and change his weight.  The point is that some foods are healthier and some are not so healthy. Although you can consume a little junk food and do physical activity, but whether BIG FOOD understands and interpret the position paper that way or not, their marketing strategies act to promote as much consumption of their profitable junk foods as possible.  The fact is, junk foods are hugely profitable because they cost so little to make, do not spoil, have been researched to promote craving, and with advertizing, can be sold in mass quantities with high profit margins. They need to fatten their corporate bottom line, so they use the paper as a protection from government regulations. Snickers, Monster drinks and Coke are NOT health foods – yes, I know this is not a news flash. The bottom line is to understand what is (and is not) in foods and make your own decisions.  Do not rely of the ambiguous standards of professional organizations with conflicts of interest, or of government agencies whose regulations have also been compromised by industry pressure and lobbying so that they do not protect you. Above all, learn to see beneath the deceptive advertizing tactics to what the food  (or fude, a substance with little or no real food in it), really has to offer.