With my fellow interns, I attended the Maryland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Meeting. There, we presented posters and were able to go to a variety of lectures. They had three tracts to choose from including Leadership, Public Policy, and Clinical Nutrition.
One of the sessions that I attended was presented by a registered dietitian who works for McDonalds. It outlined their new health focused initiatives. She discussed the changes that the company has made including:
- a vow to reduce sodium. fat, and sugar across their entire menu by 2020
- now having a whole grain bun option for every sandwich or burger on the menu
- reduced portion sizes and adding fruit and milk to children’s meals
She also told the audience that there are now more RD’s working for McDonalds than ever before, shaping how the restaurant makes food decisions.
An independent physician attended the meeting and has subsequently attacked this presentation in a recent article in the Baltimore Brew titled Fast talk about fast food. In this opinion piece, Joseph Adams expresses his disapproval related to having corporate involvement at a meeting of health professionals. He stated that this “helps explain why we are losing the war on obesity and diabetes.” He framed his article in a way that makes it seem that RD’s are in the back pocket of big food industry. This could not be further from the truth.
The fact that the representative was an RD demonstrates that big industry is not influencing us, but rather, we are influencing them. She has refused to add items to the menu that she feels are unhealthy and is continuously pushing for improved nutrition. Rather than vilifying the company, she is working with them so that consumers have more choices when they do eat there, a much more productive tactic.
Having a representative from fast food speak in one of over a dozen sessions does not amount to anything more than being informed. We know that many of those who are overweight and have related conditions frequent fast food restaurants, and 40% of teens eat fast food daily. It would be ignorant for us to ignore the entire industry. As a profession, we don’t just tell people to eat salads and exercise. We work with people’s current lifestyles to help them navigate the real world. And McDonalds is a big part of that world.
We are also a very well educated group of professionals, not likely to be wooed by a 45 minute lecture into thinking of fast food as health food. We can receive this information, think about it critically and then decide how we want to use it. We also work in this profession because we want to improve people’s health. It is insulting that this man thinks we can be bought so easily and that we will disregard our values and ethics in the interest of sponsorship.
I found this lecture to be illuminating and offered a great insight into the food industry. I feel that the physician missed the point and his reaction was guided by the need to place blame. As an RD to be, I am confident that not one person in that room ran out and told clients to eat more fast food. Instead, I feel that because of this collaboration with industry, many consumers now have the option of making healthy choices.