The SBS program Insight this week really lived up to its name. Titled A Gutfull, it wrestled with Australia’s growing waistline, from lap band surgery to low fat milk and the biggest loser.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the program was the contribution by Kellogg’s rep Rebecca Boustead. A dietitian, Rebecca was understandably running the bosses line. Here is some of the exchange.

REBECCA BOUSTEAD: … the All-Bran product has 14% fibre, so a little bit of sugar and a little bit of salt to get fibre.

JENNY BROCKIE: But 16% sugar, hasn’t it?

REBECCA BOUSTEAD: That’s on a per 100 gram bases. People don’t eat 100 grams.

JENNY BROCKIE: But 16% is 16% if it’s 100grams or if it’s 30 grams it is still 16%.

Oh dear.

And another pearl …

REBECCA BOUSTEAD: The other thing that I would like to say on the flavour thing, I think we’re doing something that is quite dangerous to our food supply because we’re pulling out the fat we’re pulling out the salt, we’re pulling out the sugar, we’re making foods that don’t taste very good and people will over-consume them.

If you use the example of a rich chocolate cake. It is self-limiting because you get tired of the flavour and I think we’re doing a disservice by continually focusing on the nutrients.

I’m pleased we sorted that out.

But anyone can get rattled under the TV studio lights. This is not about beating up Ms Boustead. A bigger issue is — how are dietitians as a whole contributing to the debate? It’s worth looking at their national association, the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA).

The DAA have Program Partners  and the programs they support are: Kellogg’s — supporting DAA Media Monitoring, Meat and Livestock Australia — supporting the DINER (Dietetic Information and Nutrition Education Resources) project, Unilever Australia — supporting the DAA Unilever Postgraduate, and a personal favourite, Fonterra — supporting the DAA Media Spokesperson Program.

The DAA Major Partners are Nutricia Australia and Nestlé Australia. The DAA Associate Partners are Dairy Australia, Guild Insurance, Healthy Life Media, Australian Egg Corporation Limited/Egg Nutrition Advisory Board, Pulse Communications, Pharmatel Fresenius Kabi, and The Almond Board of Australia.

It is a fair old list and no doubt involving quite a few bob. And good luck to DAA if it means they can have a flasher annual conference or keep membership fees down.

But at what price when a big part of the debate about obesity is inevitably going to be about regulating the processed food industry — the very same people who will fight tooth and nail to avoid regulation and the self-same crew lining DAA’s pockets.

Now it is important to point out that DAA has a detailed policy on how these corporate partnerships might operate. One specific point is made that “DAA takes great care to avoid conflict of interest”, but it seems a pretty big ask. It also says DAA want to be a “credible, independent, expert partner for nutrition communications”.

Now how many of those sponsoring organisations employ dietitians and to what extent to they influence what DAA says about challenging issues like obesity?

There is no suggestion that industry-employed dietitians should not be members of the association. They should be. But I understand industry folk make up about 5% of DAA membership. Most provide dietary advice in hospitals or community health settings.

The problem is that the food industry seems to have achieved undue influence over what their Association does and says. It is hard to find evidence of DAA taking a lead on the difficult debates relating to industry regulation.

Of course we all know that beating obesity is not about any one solution. Regulating the food industry is but one (albeit very important) part of a bigger puzzle.

The big question is: can my friends at DAA really claim to an independent voice for “better food, better health, better living for all”?