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Ethics, Disclosure and High Standards: President's Letter to Washington Post

The letter below was submitted to the Washington Post by Academy President Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND.

September 26, 2023

To the Editor:
The Post’s September 13 article “The food industry pays ‘influencer’ dietitians to shape your eating habits” does a disservice to the nation’s 100,000-plus registered dietitian nutritionists by painting broad-stroke misrepresentations about the dietetics profession and its association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Using examples of only seven individuals, the authors imply it is common practice for RDNs to have undisclosed affiliations with food companies and sponsors. This could not be further from the truth. More than 90 percent of registered dietitian nutritionists work in clinical health care, such as hospitals, medical centers and long-term care facilities, as well as in private practice, public and community health, school nutrition and other foodservice operations.

A growing number of practitioners do share their knowledge and expert opinions through social platforms, engaging with online communities and correcting health misinformation (much of which comes from potentially harmful fads promoted by infinitely larger numbers of uncredentialed influencers with much larger followings). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a strict Code of Ethics — which includes adhering to disclosure rules and guidelines established by the Federal Trade Commission — and has published many articles over the years about the importance of disclosure.

The authors further implied that the Academy is funded by the food and beverage industry, citing a long-since debunked “investigation” conducted by a small group of activists that disbanded six years ago. The truth lies in the facts: The Academy uses an independent advisor to manage our financial investments in all sectors of the S&P 500, and less than 3 percent of the Academy’s and its Foundation’s investments are in the food sector. Further, only 7 percent of the Academy’s revenue comes from sponsorships. This information has always been fully transparent to the public through our annual reports.

All this information was provided to the Post reporters in advance of the story, but unfortunately the writers elected to mislead their readers with a false narrative implying that non-disclosure of sponsorships is rampant in our profession. Speaking for Academy members who abide by our Code of Ethics, we expected the Post to abide by a higher journalistic standard as well.

Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
President 2023-2024
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

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