You may have heard the recent stories in the media suggesting that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 75,000 members recommend KRAFT Singles cheese food for kids. Or that they’ve been “declared healthy” by Academy members. I can assure you, that is not the case. Neither in principle nor in reality. The reality of the relationship is more convoluted than I even care to share, but you can read the Academy’s official word here. Let me say for the record, I have never had a problem in general with the Academy working with sponsors, including large food companies or others in the industry. And I also ate KRAFT Singles as a kid – it didn’t break me. But…
The fact is that it is completely and totally unacceptable for the Academy to promote any specific food brand. It does not reflect my personal or professional nutrition philosophy and as a member of the Academy, in my opinion, it should not have happened. Meanwhile, we ethical, food-first dietitians are dealing with the shrapnel from this grenade lobbed at us from within our own ranks (military friends, forgive the analogy as I realize this is nothing like real combat and I have nothing but utter and complete admiration and respect for you). This situation made me so angry, I had to go for a run. And I’m not a runner. All I can do is share with you my perspective. Ask for your continued trust in my professional integrity and dedication to providing you with honest and evidence-based nutrition advice. And share with you the letter than I sent to the leadership of the Academy…
Dear Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Kids Eat Right Foundation Leadership:
I am writing to share my strong opposition to the Kids Eat Right (KER) Foundation’s step to provide their logo for use on packaged products. I was stunned and disappointed to see that this feature of the new awareness campaign is being rolled out with KRAFT singles as the first product. To be honest, I do not believe that this is the worst product on the market, or harmful per se; I ate them as a child and I turned out just fine. However, that isn’t the point. Perception is reality and the public perception is that this food is a highly refined “cheese product” — not “real food”. Even the National School Lunch Program does not permit this product as part of the reimbursable meal program.
The fact is that I do not believe (and many others do not believe) that it is the kind of optimal food that we want to encourage Americans to choose as a path to better health. Our collective goal should be to hold up for the public the ideal dietary recommendations to aid them in moving closer to a diet that prevents disease and promotes vitality and health – a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other minimally processed whole foods. The suggestion by the KER Foundation that this is not an endorsement is absolutely ridiculous, as that is exactly how it was viewed by the media and the public. One only has to take a look at the coverage by ALL of the major media outlets to see how damaging this has been to the registered dietitian nutritionist.
I know that I am not alone, as I have seen the firestorm on social media, including more than 100 comments on the Academy’s Facebook post on this topic alone. The message is clear. We are angry; we are embarrassed; we feel betrayed. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and by extension the Kids Eat Right Foundation, ARE representatives of the registered dietitian nutritionist, but today they do not represent me.
I would suggest that because the Academy and KER represent a diverse group of members that they should not allow their logo, likeness or image to be used on any specific brand or product. Moreover, the Academy membership, whom the Academy and its representative organizations represents, should be informed in advance of a decision being considered to utilize the logo, likeness or image for any commercial purpose. And let’s be honest, this was for a commercial purpose, KRAFT’s motivation is not altruism.
As a member of the Academy, I am embarrassed at the negative media attention and damage to our collective reputation. Those who wish to prove that dietitians are in the pocket of “big food” and out of touch with the latest science of good nutrition now have adequate ammunition for the foreseeable future. Like KRAFT, I only want to align myself with organizations that improve my standing with other professionals, potential clients, and the public at large. For the first time in 10 years, and after participating in service in many areas, I am considering non-renewal of my membership because I am no longer convinced that the Academy’s values and goals and mine are the same.
I trust that my feedback, as well as that of countless other members will encourage you, the Academy leadership, to reconsider this decision — and to seek opportunities to realign your current strategy with the values and voices of your membership.
Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD
You have my word that I won’t endorse anything that I won’t enthusiastically and wholeheartedly feed my precious son. Pasteurized prepared cheese product isn’t on the menu. xo
My colleagues Rachel Begun, Kate Geagan, and Regan Jones have started a petition and campaign to #RepealTheSeal. Learn more about their stance (and that of those of us who have signed). As of this writing, more than 1,200 dietitians have already signed to make their voices heard. Update – nearly 1,700 have signed (6:30am EST).