Many big food companies partner with dietitians to mention or endorse their products. Critics say these relationships end up misleading consumers.
Who wants kale chips and coconut water when you can down a mini Coke and a few Kraft singles? After all, they’re all health foods, right? Some nutrition experts seem to think so.
Last month, in honor of American Heart Month, several fitness and nutrition experts wrote posts, which appeared on major newspaper sites and nutritional blogs, recommending a mini-can of Coke or other small soda for a snack, The Associated Press reports.
Coca-Cola is one of many big food companies that pay experts to mention or endorse their products in online posts or other media outlets. Coke spokesman Ben Sheidler told the AP it’s a common food industry practice, though he declined to disclose how much his company pays “experts.”
“We have a network of dietitians we work with. Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent,” he said.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which represents 75,000 registered dietitians and other nutrition professionals, recently gave Kraft Singles (the bright yellow processed cheese slices) a thumbs up to use its new “Kids Eat Right” nutrition label, The New York Times said. It’s the first product to bear the seal, and the first time the academy has endorsed a product.
Kraft Singles is an interesting choice, especially considering “Kraft is a frequent target of advocates for better children’s nutrition, who contend that many of its products are overprocessed, with too much fat, sodium, sugar, artificial dyes and preservatives,” the Times reports.
The academy told the Times that the label is not an endorsement of the processed cheese product. Academy executive director Mary Beth Whalen said in an email statement:
“The Kids Eat Right logo on Kraft Singles packaging identifies the brand as a proud supporter of Kids Eat Right. It also serves to drive broader visibility to KidsEatRight.org, a trusted educational resource for consumers,” she wrote.
Nutrition experts recommending Coke as a healthy snack and endorsing Kraft Singles in an eating right campaign aimed at young people has left many people questioning whether health experts are selling out to the food industry.
It’s why the Dietitians for Professional Integrity was formed. The organization said it does “not support the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ current sponsorship model.”
“We believe these sponsorships pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization and harm dietetics professionals’ credential and reputations,” it went on to explain.
Marion Nestle, Ph.d, M.P.H., a professor with the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU, recently expressed her dismay at Kraft earning the Kids Eat Right logo on her Food Politics blog:
Kraft is well-known as a sponsor of [the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]. Such seals are usually money-raising gimmicks.
I’m wondering if “proud supporter of” means that Kraft pays AND for use of this seal. If so, I’d like to know what the seal costs.
Clearly, some food companies are paying nutrition experts to endorse their products. It’s smart marketing for them. I think the bigger issue is that the academy, a trusted organization of nutrition experts, is taking part, potentially misleading many consumers into thinking not-so-healthy food products are good for you.
What do you think of some dietitians cozy relationship with big food companies? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.