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Coke is Running for President of the National Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Soda-Funded Candidate Poised to Poison Presidency

Kyle Pfister
Feb 20, 2017 · 5 min read

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of 100,000 nutrition professionals, is electing its next President. Should candidates be required to disclose their corporate funding?

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Neva Cochran (9/28/2016)

The Academy has long been criticized for acting as a front-group for corporate food companies, especially the soda industry. Coca-Cola donated millions to the academy to successfully build partnerships with trusted dietitians to promote their unhealthy product. Member dietitians have been used by Coke to promote soda as a healthy snack, celebrate Coke’s role in raising healthy children, and vehemently oppose soda taxes.

In 2015, the Academy ended its official Coca-Cola sponsorship with Coca-Cola after pressure from ethical dietitians, even receiving praise for taking a stand. The organization called “Dietitians for Professional Integrity” played a critical role organizing colleagues to hold their profession accountable. But, of course, the soda industry infiltration of the Academy and its dietitians did not end — it only evolved.

The soda industry is helping fund a trojan horse of corporate sponsorship to infiltrate Academy leadership: Neva Cochran.

Neva Cochran, one of only two candidates running for President of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, is funded by the American Beverage Association and the Calorie Control Council, a coalition of food and beverage companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper. She was recently one of the dietitians caught being paid by ABA to oppose soda taxes on Twitter.

Cochran’s primary experience relevant to the position is 27 years of food industry “consulting” with an extensive client list including food giants like Monsanto, McDonalds, and Coca-Cola. Never before has an Academy’s Presidential candidate been so compromised by corporate conflicts of interest. Yet Cochran’s candidate biography does not disclose these industry affiliations. Dietitians for Professional Integrity asked this year’s candidates about their stance on corporate sponsorship, but neither Cochran nor her competitor Mary Russell have responded to their candidate survey.

An Ethics Violation

When Academy-member dietitian Anna Macnak, RDN noticed Cochran had not disclosed her industry affiliations in her official candidate biography, she wrote nominating committee with concern. The concern she raised was not with the existence of corporate relationships, but that 1) the candidate did not disclose them, and 2) the Academy did hold candidates to a higher level of disclosure.

“I know Neva’s work history personally because I’m from Texas too and have seen her present several times on behalf of her corporate clients. Her entire 27-year work history was summed up as “consulting”, but it didn’t list the companies she consulted for,” said Macnak, “Candidates shouldn’t be able to cherry-pick their work history during an election process.”

A representative from the Academy answered Macnak’s email stating that their only action would be to review the concern to see if any policy revisions were needed for next year’s election. Deeming this inaction unacceptable, Macnak decided to notify local dietitians and Tweet a list of Cochran’s corporate affiliations with the hashtag #FullDisclosure.

A representative of the Academy emailed Macnak claiming the Tweet was a violation of the Academy’s Code of Ethics, which states that members are not allowed to “use disparaging or negative comments against opposing candidates”.

“Although both candidates are represented in your message, the information provided gives the appearance of a negative bias against Neva Cochran. For any member of the Academy, it is assumed the individual will follow guidelines that are put in place to ensure equity and fairness for all candidates on the ballot and respect for the Academy membership. Your cooperation in removing the message from Twitter and following the designated campaign procedures is appreciated.” — Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Nominating Committee Representative (via email)

Macnak defended her post as taking issue with a lack of transparency and not with an individual candidate. She refused to take down her Tweet and offered to discuss the issue with the committee. She has not heard back. “The Academy has offered to be more transparent. I feel like like basic disclosure of corporate affiliations is a critical part of transparency and empowering an informed electorate,” said Macnak.

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Academy’s Campaign Ethics Guidelines

Selling Soda to Kids

As part of Cochran’s role with the American Beverage Association and Calorie Control Council, she has specifically recommended soda to kids, teens, construction workers, and sedentary office workers. What a market!

“If a job that requires a lot of physical exertion like a postman delivering mail by foot, a construction worker, a landscaper or a server in a busy restaurant, a regular soft drink can replace calories burned along with refreshment. On the other hand, someone working in a sedentary office position and also trying to lose weight could opt for a calorie-free soda.” — Neva Cochran (11/2/15)

She often positions soda as a “favorite” and mentions how even she drinks diet soda as a part of her balanced diet.

“You’ll also meet the recommended levels for fiber and 18 vitamins and minerals, with some calories left over for favorites like a soda or cookie.” — Neva Cochran (8/17/15)

Cochran’s promotion of soda to kids and teens is particularly egregious. She repeats the soda industry’s talking point that soda does not contribute to childhood obesity and is even necessary for kids to fight fatigue.

“Active teens: soda, lemonade, sweet tea & choc milk can replace calories & fluid.” — Neva Cochran (7/8/16)

The medical and nutrition fields have reached consensus that soda is not healthy, especially for kids. This is the clearest way you can differentiate a soda salesperson from a nutrition advocate.

Selling Soda as Better Than Water

Neva Cochran doesn’t just love soda, she smears water too. She prefers sugar because “plain water isn’t that appealing”.

Soda is hydrating for hot summer days…

“Diet soda is a great choice for hydration, to satisfy your sweet tooth, and cool you off on hot summer days” — Neva Cochran (5/16/16)

And her “nutrition education” articles always end with a glowing review of the sugary product she’s paid to promote.

Fighting Soda Taxes

As we recently uncovered, Cochran’s affiliation with soda companies includes participating in coordinated corporate campaigns to spread misinformation and smear community-level soda taxes.

“While politicians try to legislate people’s eating habits by requiring warning labels or taxes on sugar and soda, these initiatives are usually doomed to fail.” — Neva Cochran (2/8/16)

“As a registered dietitian nutritionist whose goal is to help people enjoy eating a variety of flavorful foods and beverages for health and wellness, I much prefer a positive approach of education to a negative one of regulation.” — Neva Cochran (2/8/16)

Take Action

This Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics election is happening now and dietitians CAN and MUST vote against a President more aligned with Coca-Cola than kids’ nutrition. Please tell all your dietitian friends to vote against Neva Cochran, and if elected, to hold her accountable.

MEMBERS VOTE HERE (by February 22)

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