Member attitudes toward corporate sponsorship of AND

I’ve written several posts critical of the companies allowed to become partners with/sponsors of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND or formerly the American Dietetics Association or ADA). Companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey, etc seem like odd choices to give positive press messages or lead moderation campaigns using RD credentials to sell product, as just a couple examples. Especially when the scientific evidence supporting the link between some of their products and negative health outcomes continues to grow, yet they simply deny it.

A new paper was published recently by Elise Reitshamer, Margaret Steffey Schrier, Nancie Herbold, and Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsaras who surveyed the attitudes of AND members about corporate sponsors. The results are worth exploring, so here is a summary.

The authors designed the survey with questions about demographics, membership, and sponsorship opinions. Oddly, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics declined to offer them a list of members to make the survey representative of the membership. Elise told me in an email instead they would have had to pay for it but did not have the budget. That the Academy could not assist in research on a question that is beneficial for them to know is unfortunate. So instead they had to contact state or district affiliates, most who agreed to send out emails to members. 2,968 surveys were completed out of a possible 29,500. They note in the discussion of course that self-selection based on interest in the topic may skew the results somewhat, but the demographic results are close to those of the 2009 ADA Compensation and Benefits Survey which used probability sampling.

Results

  • Interestingly, only 13% disapproved of all corporate sponsorship, but 68% replied that it depends who the sponsor is
  • 83% say they should have a say in who sponsors the AND
  • 97% said yes when asked if they AND should verify that the sponsor’s corporate mission is in line to the AND’s before accepting them
  • 80% think that sponsorship implies endorsement by the AND
  • 47% of members are not willing to pay more in membership costs to reduce sponsorship. But 34% are willing to pay 1-5% more, and 14% are willing to pay 6-10% more. To completely make up the difference in corporate sponsors, I estimated that each member would need to pay an extra $41/year (at least in 2009), which is about a 27% increase (on average). According to these results, only 2% of members are willing to pay 21% or more so this doesn’t seem to be an option.
For each of the AND sponsors/partners, the members were asked if they found them acceptable or unacceptable (or unfamiliar).  I reproduced the table below in order of most accepted to least. Note that the “products/brands” were not included in the survey, just the sponsor name. And yes I realize that I forgot to turn off the spellcheck before taking a screenshot!

It is interesting that most of the sponsors are actually heavily rated acceptable with the exception of Mars, Incorporated, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo which are rated mostly unacceptable.

The authors also found a inverse associations between length of Academy membership and years of practice with whether members should have a say in the decisions of corporate sponsorship, with younger members more likely to want a say.

Respondents were also allowed to provide comments which were coded into themes by the authors, and the top response was that strict policies and guidelines should be in place but sponsors are ok.

The full paper is worth a read for a nice overview on these issues, especially of the policies and sponsorship of other organizations. Notably, the American Public Health Association does not accept donations, and the American Medical Association recently eliminated sponsorship but make it up in advertising.

The Academy states that internal survey results support corporate sponsorship approval by members, but clearly not all are approved and members want input. Will this force some reconsiderations?

 

Reference

Elise Reitshamera, Margaret Steffey Schriera, Nancie Herbolda, & Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsarasa (2012). Members’ Attitudes Toward Corporate Sponsorship of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition : 10.1080/19320248.2012.704748

  • Lynn

    What I think is interesting is the attitude, perhaps even bias, the names evoke given the brands were not listed. CocaCola: Coke, not Minute Maid or Honest Tea. Kelloggs: Corn Flakes, not Keebler Cookies. Pepsi: Pepsi not Quaker. Unilever: …don’t they make soap? (joking on the last one a bit, but can most people identify a Unilever food brand?)

    • http://www.nutsci.org Colby

      Yeah at first it concerned me that the participants didn’t have the brands/products in front of them, but it is probably more representative of gut reactions by both RDs and the public anyway & perception is half the problem.

  • Matt Ruscigno RD MPH

    Thank you for this!

  • Kevin Klatt

    There’s a group of Dietitians calling themselves Dietitians for Professional Integrity that are hugely advocating against this issue.

    One major thing that they point out about this study is that a lot of the people who have issues with the corporate sponsorship don’t renew their membership with AND, so their opinions aren’t reflected in this poll. If you follow their facebook page, there seems to be a pretty big number of RDs who dropped their memberships. I’d be interested to see a survey of anyone with the credential, not just the % of those who are AND members. A lot of those newbies that want a say may drop their membership after becoming more frustrated.