The ADA’s No Longer Hidden Agenda

Eat all the candy you want. We’ve got a drug for that.

Okay American Dietetic Association. (Or Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, or whatever impressive sounding name you’ve chosen to call yourselves these days.)  This week, things have gotten personal.  The grudge goes back six years.

In the spring of 2006, I was shocked to wake up on a Tuesday morning to learn that one of my dearest friends in the world had just died in the emergency room.  I was shocked, but not surprised.  John was a diabetic, and for years his health had been declining.  He went from walking with a bit of a limp to needing a cane, to losing his toes, to losing his leg, and then to spending life in a wheelchair.  Always of good humor, he couldn’t seem to put down the Diet Cokes, and he considered fast food his friend.  I knew his weren’t healthy habits, but I wasn’t really one to talk.  After all, his habits were mine, too.  I just hadn’t been diagnosed yet.  I was obese and probably headed toward diabetes eventually myself.  It “ran” in my family.  My grandfather had it.  Probably, I’d get it, too.

What I knew – or thought I knew – was that diabetes is a condition you can’t cure, you can only “manage.”  John wasn’t managing it well, but after a long and serious hospital stay to treat a systemic infection (exacerbated by that disease he couldn’t cure), and a short few weeks at home when he seemed to be on the mend, his blood sugar suddenly spiked one night and all the medical professionals in that emergency room could do no better than all the medical professionals who’d been working with him for years.

He died at sunrise, with his wife by his side.  John was 43 years old.

So this weekend, Andy, one of my fellow health coaches, shared his angst over suddenly losing a dear friend to diabetes last Friday.  Dave was just 46.  As you can imagine, this sent me back to revisit my grief surrounding my own friend’s passing.  I realized I also harbored a fair bit of anger, now that I know more about the disease.

My training as a health coach has taught me that diabetes is not, in fact, an incurable disease that can only be managed.  It is preventable, reversible, and should never, ever be the reason why someone dies, especially not in the prime of his life.

A few months ago, I addressed the controversy in North Carolina surrounding self-taught diabetes educator Steve Cooksey and the steps taken by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition to inhibit his ability to share information and provide nutritional advice to diabetics.  A former diabetic himself, he’d discovered the Paleo Diet, reversed his condition, and realized he had an ability to help others make similar changes in their lives.  Because he openly challenged the faulty high carb dietary recommendations of a registered dietitian in a public meeting, he was censured and threatened by the state board with a cease and desist order.  Quit providing “nutritional advice,” he was basically told, or you just might face criminal prosecution.

My last piece on the subject questioned the logic of authorizing an organization to provide licenses to dispense nutritional advice, when that organization’s own advice is wrong.  Go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association, or ADA) national website and look up “diabetes.”  The very first statement is a falsehood:

“Diabetes cannot be cured but it can be successfully treated.”

Really?  Ask Steve Cooksey if you can cure it.  Ask Dr. Joel Fuhrman if you can cure it.  In fact, Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live plant-based diet cures every lifestyle disease known to man.  But the drug companies don’t want the word to get out.  Once, Dr. Fuhrman authored an article for an educational magazine where he detailed precisely how he helped four people reverse their diabetes for good.  The magazine’s editors came back to ask him to “tone down” the results of his work and not make it clear that his patients were free of diabetes, since a major insulin drug manufacturing company sponsored the magazine and, well… cured diabetics are bad for business.

Thousands and thousands of people have reversed their diabetes, come off their insulin, and reclaimed their healthy lives through diet alone, yet it’s amazing that the majority of people have no idea that this is possible.  One of the reasons why is because organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics work hard to ensure that the only view presented is theirs.  And their view is that it cannot be cured, it can only be managed.

So, this begs the question – why won’t the affiliated North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition (established in 1992, right around the time our nation’s health began to sink fast) simply allow for another position?  Why do they feel the need to threaten someone who disagrees with their point of view?

This week, Michael Ellsberg of Forbes Magazine sheds a little light on the main reasons why.  Someone within the organization who was disturbed by these reasons leaked internal documents that, to quote Ellsberg’s article, prove the ADA:

Openly discusses creating and using state boards of dietetics/nutrition (including in NC and in every other state in the union) for the express purpose of limiting market competition for its Registered Dietitian members.

Openly discusses a nation-wide plan of surveilling and reporting private citizens, and particularly all competitors on the market for nutrition counseling, for “harming the public” by providing nutrition information/advice/counseling without a license—through exactly the same means by which Cooksey was reported to the NC Board. Again, for the explicit purpose of limiting marketplace competition.

In other words, the ADA is working feverishly, particularly at the state level and through influencing state legislators, to eliminate market competition for registered dietitians, and to provide justification for its own existence.  There is lip service given to the notion of protecting the public from “renegade” nutritional counselors.  But the public isn’t exactly crying out for this sort of “protection.”  Again and again, the documents make it clear that the driving factors are squashing competition and making a case for its own existence by insisting upon licensure through one of the state approved dietitian associations.

Don’t get me wrong… licensing is a no-brainer for some professions, of course.  I don’t want a dentist in my mouth who hasn’t clearly demonstrated his competence.  I don’t want an attorney representing me who doesn’t know the law.  And I won’t fly in a plane if the pilot hasn’t passed her flight tests.  Obviously, public safety and welfare are of justifiable concern in these and many other areas.

But when it comes to eating food?  I’m much more interested in getting my information from someone who obviously walks his talk, not from someone with letters after her name.  If I have diabetes, or heart disease, or cancer, and I see people who’ve suffered with such diseases thriving because of lifestyle changes they’ve made (they generally don’t thrive with drugs and medical interventions alone), then I WANT them to tell me how I can get those results, too.  If I know of someone who has successfully helped others to make lifestyle changes and eliminate the need for medications, surgery, and other medical interventions, I want to talk.  I don’t care if she has a license. I’m free to listen to her, to pay her to help me, and then to make my own choices and take responsibility for the results of those choices.  Who is the ADA to “protect” me from these options?

There are many theories and approaches to eating well and preserving one’s health through food.  The ADA hardly has all the answers.  In fact, quite a few of their answers are downright wrong.

The truly crazy thing, as Ellsberg points out, is that the ADA isn’t just insisting upon these standards for their own sake.  They actively encourage their members to seek and find people who violate their rules, to threaten them, and to do this to continue to provide justification for their existence:

“States generally require that someone file a complaint before an investigation into a violation can be opened; the complaint process is integral to aggressive enforcement of dietitian licensing acts. Because all too often state dietetics boards receive few (or no) complaints alleging violations, one is led to conclude either that (a) few, if any, violations are occurring in these states and licensing is not necessary or (b) violations are occurring, but are not being reported. If the latter scenario is accurate, dietitians and others benefitting from licensure must be more vigilant in identifying and reporting violations.”

Did you get that?  “All too often state dietetics boards receive few (or no) complaints alleging violations.”

In other words, “No one’s complaining, so maybe we aren’t as necessary as we thought.  Members, go out and drum up some business!”

Steve Cooksey came along at just the right time.

In his piece, Ellsberg quotes economist and author Milton Friedman:

“In the arguments that seek to persuade legislatures to enact such licensure provisions, the justification is always said to be the necessity of protecting the public interest. However, the pressure on the legislature to license an occupation rarely comes from the members of the public who have been mulcted or in other ways abused by members of the occupation. On the contrary, the pressure invariably comes from members of the occupation itself.”

Indeed.  There is no threat to the public health from people like Cooksey advising diabetics to eat a Paleo diet, or from people like me advising them to eat more kale.  The threats to public health have obviously come from other sources that were factors long before we became involved, as 25 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, which is a rate 200% higher than it was in 1980.

I can’t add any more to the excellent job Ellsberg does exposing the ADA’s agenda in his piece; the main purpose of my article is to drive traffic to his – people need to know what’s going on.

The secondary purpose of my article is to vent my frustration, my anger, and my grief.  It is an unconscionable act for an organization like the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition to spend its time and resources on keeping itself in business and censoring all other points of view, and to encourage its affiliated state boards to do the same.   This is the real threat to the public’s well being.

I don’t know if anyone ever told my friend John that food was his most powerful medicine, to a degree much greater than he even imagined.   What if Dave could have known months, even weeks ago, that he had the power to cure his diabetes with his own fork?  What if the only thing either one of them ever heard was, “Diabetes cannot be cured,” and because an association as official sounding as the ADA made that claim, that’s all they believed?

A lot of questions remain unanswered about the past, but the future doesn’t have to be this way for others who suffer with this disease.  I’m writing in memory of John and Dave, and with hope that nutritional counselors – registered dietitians or not – who truly know the power of food will support diabetics through food choices in profoundly changing their lives – and thus saving them.

© 2012  The Wellness Wordsmith


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