The 2011 American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo kicked off with some interesting news — an upcoming organizational name change.
In a letter to all members, current President Sylvia A. Escott-Stump explained that as of January 2012, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) will be known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). “Why?”, you ask?
“This is a name that immediately and fully complements our focus: the nutritional well-being of the American public. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes the strong science background and expertise of our members, primarily registered dietitians. Nutrition science underpins wellness, prevention and treatment.
An academy is “a society of learned persons organized to advance science.” This term describes our organization and immediately emphasizes the educational strength of our advice and expertise. By adding nutrition to our name, we communicate our capacity for translating nutrition science into healthier lifestyles for everyone. Keeping dietetics supports our history as a food and science-based profession.”
This announcement was presented with rather hyperbolic rhetoric (“[it] will affect our Association, the entire dietetics profession and our perception by the public”).
If this is an attempt at a ‘clean slate’ or a ‘new beginning’, I certainly hope the ADA realizes that a new identity entails much more than name modification. Snark aside (who will be this Academy’s mascot? Ronald McDonald? The Keebler Elves? Toucan Sam?), this ‘change’ is insubstantial; it does not address any of the deeper issues continually poisoning the roots of a professional organization that wants to be the leader in the realm of nutrition.
How can the ADA expect to be perceived as “advancing science” by the public, other professionals, and many of its own members when a significant amount of the public messages it conveys are tainted by the food industry’s most insidious players (and, at times, are no different from the bullet points in food industry “fact sheets”)?
Mrs. Escott-Stump is absolutely correct when she states that nutrition science underpins wellness, prevention, and treatment. In many cases, nutrition is medicine; many conditions can be managed — and prevented — with the right dietary habits. So, then, why are Hershey’s, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola such prominent ADA players? Why do Chik-Fil-A, The Sugar Association, and McDonald’s have booths at an annual nutrition expo? Why is one of today’s sessions all about defending processed foods? FYI: one of the speakers is from the International Food Information Council, a controversial food industry cheerleader that is — you guessed it! — a MyPlate partner. Sigh.
I was also taken aback by what is missing from this new name: food! Nutrition is, first and foremost, about food. It is not about popping a multivitamin and getting calcium from a bottle of Vitamin Water. If anything, the American public needs a constant reminder to eat, cook, and — why not! — grow real, wholesome food. My nutrition work revolves entirely around food, from growing practices to seasonal availability to preparation techniques that can turn a bitter and tough kale leaf into a tender and mild salad green.
A dilapidated house does not need a fresh coat of paint; it needs to be gutted and rebuilt. Similarly, the American Dietetic Association does not require a name change, but a structural one. It is imperative that it recognize the dangers of partnering with certain segments of the food industry, and of communicating public health messages that are outdated (“all saturated fat is bad”) vague (“everything in moderation”), and reflective of industry’s interests. Until then, it can expect to continue to have its authority rightfully questioned and scrutinized.