You are a non-profit organization that is involved in lobbying all 50 state legislatures. You do not produce or market any products so you are not making any direct contribution to the nation's obesity problems. However, your lobbying efforts are directed against legislation to improve school nutrition standards, limit the availability of soda and junk food in schools, and reduce the consumption of junk food and soda.
You approach the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) - nation's leading federal agency fighting heart disease (and therefore obesity) - and ask if you can be recognized by this federal agency as a partner in the national effort to reduce heart disease. You also approach the American Cancer Society with the same request.
Then, you go for broke. You ask the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians to also endorse you as a full-fledged partner in the national effort to reduce childhood obesity.
When these organizations question you about your activities, you are honest and reveal that you actively lobby against legislation in all 50 states to improve school nutrition standards, limit the availability of soda and junk food in schools, and reduce the consumption of junk food and soda. You acknowledge that you are even lobbying against basic environmental health policies like bottle bills, which are supported by even the most conservative groups.
You also acknowledge that when advocates in one state attempted to set nutrition guidelines on food and beverages, you hired a lobbying firm to gut the law. "The political struggle included an eight-hour House debate in which lawmakers engaged in stall tactics and delayed the process by adding unrelated amendments. [Your] lobbyists also shared data regarding school income from soda sales with lawmakers behind closed doors so that nutrition advocates could not refute the information. [You] also delivered a well-stocked cooler [of Coca-Cola] to the Democratic caucus room just before the House was expected to vote on the bill." (Source: Michele Simon. Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. New York: Nation Books, 2006)
In 2010 alone, you spent $4.9 million dollars lobbying against public health legislation, of which nearly a half million went to seven private lobbying firms. You also donated money to a front group which runs attack campaigns against public health and nutrition groups. The front group that you fund is run by an organization that also funds efforts to prevent stricter drunk driving legislation.
Do you think you would have a prayer in hell of ever getting the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians to endorse you as a full-fledged partner in the effort to fight childhood obesity and improve the public's health?
Probably not, but that isn't the actual scenario in question.
The actual scenario is as follows:
Everything above is true, including:
- your lobbying against legislation in all 50 states to improve school nutrition standards, limit the availability of soda and junk food in schools, and reduce the consumption of junk food and soda; your lobbying against basic environmental health policies like bottle bills, which are supported by even the most conservative groups;
- your hiring a law firm to gut a state bill to improve school nutrition standards;
- your delivering a cooler of Coca-Cola to the Democratic caucus room just before the vote;
- your spending $4.9 million dollars lobbying against public health legislation, of which nearly a half million went to seven private lobbying firms; and
- your donating money to a front group which runs attack campaigns against public health and nutrition groups and which is funded by an organization that also funds efforts to prevent stricter drunk driving legislation.
Now, if you didn't think you would have a prayer in hell of ever getting the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians to endorse you as a full-fledged partner in the effort to fight childhood obesity and improve the public's health before, what kind of chances do you think you'd have now?
On top of all your lobbying against policies to improve school nutrition and reduce junk food and soda consumption, on top of your millions of dollars of lobbying expenditures to fight public health and environmental health policies, and on top of your donations to an organization that is tied to even the most sensible policies like strict drunk driving laws, you are the leading producer of the actual soda that is contributing significantly to the obesity problem.
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the story is that this scenario actually occurred (see Michele Simon. Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. New York: Nation Books, 2006), and that the corporation involved - the Coca-Cola Company - was successful in buying off the endorsements of the American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians, as I detailed last week. In addition, as I reveal today, this corporation was successful in gaining similar endorsements and partnerships from the federal government - the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) - and a health charity group: the American Cancer Society. Sadly, these organizations were also bought off by monetary donations, allowing Coca-Cola to achieve the unimaginable feat of opposing even basic school nutrition standards by being recognized by the NHLBI and the American Cancer Society as being a leader in the movement to reduce heart disease by controlling obesity.
1. The American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society acknowledges that it receives support from the Coca-Cola Company for its Choose You campaign. This is a campaign to promote healthy living, including eating right and maintaining good nutrition.
The American Cancer Society was bought off into endorsing as a corporate partner a company that opposes improving school nutrition standards and opposes measures to limit infants' exposure to bisphenol-A, a possible carcinogen to which the ACS publicly states people should limit their exposure. What a fine choice for a partner!
To make matters even worse, the American Cancer Society misleads the public by stating that it will not partner with any company whose products contribute to obesity. Clearly, it is violating its own stated criteria here. The ACS claims: "If a product contributes to obesity, a major contributor of cancer, it's out." So much for honesty.
While the ACS might try to argue that it is really just Diet Coke and Sprite Zero which are sponsoring the Choose You campaign, that is hogwash. There is no such company as Diet Coke or Sprite Zero and the corporate sponsor is the Coca-Cola Company, not Diet Coke or Sprite Zero. The Coca-Cola Company does indeed produce products that contribute to obesity, so the American Cancer Society's claim is a bunch of baloney.
I'll have to remember this trick. The next time I need money for my anti-smoking research, I'll ask Philip Morris. But I'll publicize the sponsorship of my research as coming from Chateau Ste. Michelle wine (another product of Altria, in addition to Marlboro cigarettes). I can then declare on my web site: "I refuse to accept any sponsorship of my research from any product which contributes to tobacco-related disease." That way, I can have my cake and eat it too. I can claim to be following science-based, ethical standards.
That the American Cancer Society is relying on such flimsy and totally bogus reasoning to defend this sponsorship is actually worse than the sponsorship itself. Why? Because the organization is essentially lying to the public. It's a huge hoax that they are pulling on their own constituents, volunteers, and donors. Frankly, it's sickening to see how low the ACS has sunk with this cheap ploy.
2. The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute
Apparently in return for its donation to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the NHLBI agreed to allow Coca-Cola to be a partner in its Heart Truth campaign. By allowing Coca-Cola to be a partner, the NHLBI has allowed Coca-Cola to boast on its web site that: "Our research with consumers has told us that women today are increasingly mindful of making choices that positively impact their lives. For them, drinking Diet Coke is an essential part of their modern pursuit of well-being." OK then. I didn't realize that the NHLBI was in the business of marketing Diet Coke.
In its press release, Coca-Cola boasts that "consumers can find more information on the Diet Coke's Red Dress Program at www.mycokerewards.com." Actually, the first thing I noticed at that site was a fast food advertisement for Wendy's. What the site is actually promoting - rather than reducing heart disease and improving nutrition - is Wendy's new natural-cut fries.
But these natural-cut fries are actually just as unhealthy as the old ones. In fact, they deliver 10 more calories, delivering a whopping 420 calories, 20 grams of fat, 500 milligrams of sodium, and 54 grams of carbohydrates. These all make it less healthy than the original fries.
Whether it likes it or not, through its partnership with Coca-Cola, the NHLBI is actually helping to promote and market Wendy's new natural-cut fries at 420 calories and a half gram of sodium per serving. What kind of contribution is that going to make to the NHLBI's goal of reducing hypertension, obesity, and heart disease?
And don't give me the same argument that it is actually Diet Coke, and not Coca-Cola, that is sponsorship the campaign. Diet Coke is not a company, and the NHLBI knows full well that it is the Coca-Cola Company which is sponsoring the campaign and getting a huge marketing opportunity from it - not only for Diet Coke but for its entire line of products, including Coke itself, which is prominently displayed in an advertisement on the web site that was touted as providing information on the Little Red Dress program.
So now we have even more to the rest of the story. The company which the American Dietetic Association and American Academy of Pediatrics tout as being a leader in the national movement to curb childhood obesity is actively promoting fast food - specifically, french fries.
Does the NHLBI really want to be marketing french fries to the public? Through its partnership with Coca-Cola, it is unfortunately also partnering in this marketing of french fries. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as partnering with just "Diet Coke." If you partner with Coca-Cola, you get the whole shebang. And that includes the promotion of 420 calorie per serving french fries.
And, might I add, that's only a side dish. You're getting 420 calories and half a gram of salt from a side dish alone. The most basic item at Wendy's - it's 1/4 pound burger - delivers 550 calories, 28 grams of fat, and 1.28 grams of sodium. Yes, you read that right - 1.28 grams of sodium.
I do think it's time for the American Cancer Society and the NHLBI to re-examine their criteria for corporate partnerships.
As if this all isn't enough, it gets much worse. Apparently, the NHLBI has agreed to have its red dress logo placed on Diet Coke cans, thus resulting in the Institute's endorsement of Diet Coke, even though diet sodas have been linked to obesity.
Not only is the NHLBI helping to market french fries, but it is directly helping to market soda.
Frankly, I don't think that Coca-Cola really needs this help in marketing its products from the NHLBI and American Cancer Society. The company seems to be doing pretty well on its own, selling 1.4 billion servings of its beverages each day.
Now all we need is a federal agency or cancer organization that will actually help fight obesity, heart disease, and cancer, rather than help promote and market products that contribute to these problems.
SOURCE: Most of the information upon which this post is based comes from the following source -- Michele Simon. Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. New York: Nation Books, 2006