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This Oct. 16, 2016, photo shows Nabisco’s booth at an annual dietitians' conference, where company representatives explained the health benefits of their products. (Candice Choi/AP)
This Oct. 16, 2016, photo shows Nabisco’s booth at an annual dietitians' conference, where company representatives explained the health benefits of their products. (Candice Choi/AP)

Do candy and pop makers belong at a dieticians’ conference? Add to ...

The blinking game-show wheel spins past logos for Triscuits, Wheat Thins and Honey Maid before the needle settles at Fig Newtons.

“Newtons are made with real fruit and whole grains. True or false?” a Nabisco representative asks onlookers, who are among 10,000 attendees at a conference where dietitians can earn credits for continuing education.

The answer, the Nabisco representative says, is true.

Among the hundreds of exhibits, many focused on items such as beans, eggs, strawberries and leafy greens. But big packaged-food makers and trade groups also had a presence, emblematic of the complex ties between the food industry and nutritionists and a push by critics to bring greater awareness to corporate influence on the profession.

PepsiCo brought a vending machine stocked with Quaker bars, Naked juices and reduced-fat Doritos. Unilever showcased Hellmann’s spreads and offered samples of Breyer’s ice cream. Nestlé displayed bottled water, Nesquik chocolate drinks and Butterfingers candies. A Sugar Association pamphlet suggested sprinkling sugar on vegetables for picky children.

While the influence of food corporations on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its 75,000 members has come under greater scrutiny, some see growing sensitivity to ethical and conflict-of-interest issues.

“It’s been an important topic in the pharmaceutical world, and now it’s becoming a much more important topic in the nutrition world,” said David Wiss, a member of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, which has called on the academy to show greater independence from the food industry.

Wiss feels there is a “huge, inherent” industry influence some may not realize exists. He said a bigger problem than the expo hall is the influence that sponsors have continuing education sessions for dietitians, and recalled a previous class where he was taught about salt by Frito-Lay.

Lucille Beseler, president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said in an e-mail academy members know the difference between marketing and science, and use their professional judgment to evaluate exhibitors’ products and programs. She said nutrition professionals do not dictate what people eat, and “must therefore be familiar with all foods and products in the marketplace.”

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