by Marion Nestle
Sep 19 2023

Food companies pay dietitian-influencers to hawk their products

The Examination, a brand-new news outlet, and the Washington Post jointly published a jaw-dropping article last week about dietitians paid by food and supplement companies to defend and promote their products on Instagram and TikTok.

Why jaw-dropping?  Two reasons: the media—videos, posts—embedded in the article (these are amazing to see), and the non-disclosure of payment.

As the World Health Organization raised questions this summer about the risks of a popular artificial sweetener, a new hashtag began spreading on the social media accounts of health professionals: #safetyofaspartame….What these dietitians didn’t make clear was that they were paid to post the videos by American Beverage, a trade and lobbying group representing Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other companies….The food, beverage, and dietary supplement industries are paying dozens of registered dietitians that collectively have millions of social media followers to help sell products and deliver industry-friendly messages on Instagram and TikTok, according to an analysis by The Examination and The Washington Post.

Here’s just one example:

Registered dietitian Lindsay Pleskot, of Vancouver, British Columbia, has posted videos of herself eating ice cream and peanut butter cups while telling people that denying themselves sugary food will only make cravings worse….These and other posts were paid for by the Canadian Sugar Institute.

You might think that embarrassing revelations like these would induce the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to set firm policies about conflicts of interest with food companies.  No such luck.
Instead, the president of the Academy issued a statement. She attacks one of the reporters on this story.

This same Post reporter has targeted registered dietitian nutritionists before. Last October, he published an article about a misleading report authored by anti-licensure activists seeking to undermine the important work of the Academy and our members and to demonize the industry without any regard for the truth. At that time, we responded strongly to rebut the report and to correct the news article with facts.

She also defends the Academy by saying it has rules in place, but “cannot police individual RDNs’ online activities or personal social media channels; we do have a Code of Ethics process to review and act on questionable practices that are brought to our attention.”

She did not say whether she considered these practices to be questionable or requiring action.  I think they do.

Instead, she says, “If the article seeks to malign or discredit the Academy or the more than 112,000 credentialed practitioners whom we proudly represent, we will reply swiftly and with purpose.”

In other words, take no responsibility, attack, and deny.

This is an important story.  Nutrition advice should not be tainted by commercial influence.

These reporters are not going to let this go, and should not.

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