The ADA, which relies mainly on donations to fund its efforts, accepted more than $23 million dollars from food manufacturers and drug companies in 2005. The charity would often license its logo to food companies for use on diet or low-sugar products in exchange for sponsorship money.
However, critics oppose the ADA's sponsorship deals with companies that manufacture "ADA approved" diet and sugar-free products, but also make high-sugar, high-fat products that promote obesity. The ADA's recent deals with companies such as Cadbury-Schweppes -- which makes Diet Rite sodas and Snapple unsweetened teas, as well as high-sugar Dr Pepper and Cadbury Creme Eggs -- have garnered criticism.
"Maybe the American Diabetes Association should rename itself the American Junk Food Association," said Gary Ruskin, director of consumer advocacy group Commercial Alert.
The ADA says its new 54-page corporate sponsorship guidelines are designed to safeguard its image as an unbiased health agency. The new rules on accepting donations include only accepting contributions of $500,000 or more, and only accepting money from companies that do not manufacture products or offer services that could damage the ADA's reputation.
The new guidelines do not allow the ADA to renew sponsorship deals with several food companies that violate the association's rules. For example, the ADA's sponsorship deal with Hershey -- which allowed the chocolate maker to use the ADA logo on its sugar-free chocolate candy -- could not be renewed because the candy is high in fat, and Hershey also makes a number of other unhealthy chocolate products that diabetics should avoid.
Though the ADA's new guidelines have appeased some critics, others believe the agency spends too much of its money and effort on treating diabetes with profitable pharmaceuticals, rather than preventing it through diet and lifestyle changes.
Consumer advocate Mike Adams, author of "How to Halt Diabetes in 25 Days," says the ADA often behaves like a "front group" for pharmaceutical firms.
"The ADA's advice to diabetics is that they can keep eating all the ice cream, sweets and soft drinks they want, as long as they control their blood sugar with pharmaceuticals," Adams said. "It's medically absurd. Diabetics need to eliminate liquid sugars and refined carbohydrates from their diets for life, and in doing so, many of them would find their diabetes disappearing."
The ADA's close relationship with the pharmaceutical industry has also drawn criticism, since many volunteer members of the charity's policy-setting committees are pharmaceutical executives. Twice in the past 10 years, the ADA's Executive Committee has been headed by former executives of drug or medical equipment companies, while the charity's treasurer is the acting director of investor relations for Johnson & Johnson.
An influential ADA panel is set to publish its recommendation on whether or not prediabetes -- a condition in which patients have elevated blood sugar levels but have not yet developed type 2 diabetes -- should be treated with prescription drugs.
Drug makers such as GlaxoSmithKline -- which recently completed trials of a drug to treat prediabetes -- would stand to make billions of dollars treating the estimated 41 million Americans suffering from the condition. All but one member of the ADA panel set to make the decision, which would likely influence the FDA's approval or denial of the drug, reported accepting fees or research funds from pharmaceutical companies. Three other members reported taking direct fees from Glaxo, which donated $1 million to the ADA last year.
However, the ADA claims it remains uninfluenced by drug company donations. The agency says it accepts so much money from the pharmaceutical industry because it faces more financial pressure than other charitable medical groups, since people are less inclined to donate funds to help in the treatment of a largely self-inflicted, preventable disease.
Dr. Richard Kahn, a top ADA executive, said the association accepts large donations from drug companies because it believes pharmaceutical drugs are the best option for treating diabetics who lack the discipline to eat healthier and exercise more.
"Ninety percent of the people out there still can't lose 10 percent of their body weight and keep it off for four years," Kahn said.
Adams says the ADA's efforts -- biased or not -- are considered a "joke" to qualified nutritionists in the natural health community.
"The organization is so outdated that it still won't admit diabetes is curable, even as credible studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals prove that it its," Adams said.