I have written extensively this week on the corporate partnerships that three public health organizations - the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Dietetic Association - have forged with Coca-Cola and other Big Food companies and how these partnerships aid the marketing plans and marketing efforts of these companies, undermine the integrity and public health mission of these supposedly public health-committed organizations, and directly undermine the public's health itself by helping to market unhealthy products.
Although I have been the target of many personal attacks due to my coming out publicly with these opinions, it is clear to me that I have struck a nerve somewhere and that the defensive reaction is due to an underlying realization that these corporate partnerships are not sustainable if these organizations are to retain any semblance of integrity.
I want to close the week by putting forward two pieces of evidence that demonstrate why these partnerships are unacceptable.
1. Coca-Cola and other Big Food companies are using these partnerships to enhance their corporate image, and therefore, their bottom line: sales of unhealthy products that are contributing towards the nation's obesity epidemic.
In its 2010 annual report, Coca-Cola writes: "Obesity and other health concerns may reduce demand for some of our products. Consumers, public health officials and government officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the public health consequences associated with obesity, particularly among young people. In addition, some researchers, health advocates and dietary guidelines are encouraging consumers to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including those sweetened with HFCS or other nutritive sweeteners. Increasing public concern about these issues; possible new taxes and governmental regulations concerning the marketing, labeling or availability of our beverages; and negative publicity resulting from actual or threatened legal actions against us or other companies in our industry relating to the marketing, labeling or sale of sugar-sweetened beverages may reduce demand for our beverages, which could affect our profitability."
Thus, Coca-Cola directly acknowledges that a negative public image impacts its bottom line - profits - and therefore, that improving its public image will do the opposite: increase Coke sales.
In its 2010 Sustainability Report, Coca-Cola makes it clear that it is using the ADA, AAP, and AAFP to improve its public image by reaching millions of consumers. It boasts about how responsible a company it is due to its partnership with these organizations: "In the United States, we currently reach millions of consumers annually through our work with the American Dietetic Association; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth® campaign; the American Cancer Society’s Choose You™ campaign; the American College of Sports Medicine; the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association; and the American Academy of Family Physicians."
Pepsico, in its 2010 annual report, also makes clear the connection between the company's public image and its bottom line: "Damage to our reputation or loss of consumer confidence in our products for any of these or other reasons could result in decreased demand for our products and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as require additional resources to rebuild our reputation."
2. The American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians are supporting companies that oppose virtually every state-specific public health policy related to improvement of school nutrition, reduction of junk food and soda consumption, and environmental health and safety.
Regardless of its public statements, Coca-Cola is clearly opposed to virtually all state legislation proposed by public health groups to improve school nutrition and reduce the consumption of unhealthy, sugar-sweetened beverages.
Through its contributions to the Grocers Manufacturers Association (GMA), Coca-Cola is opposing any and all taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks), opposing the removal of BPA from bottles containing liquids consumed by infants, opposing legislation to simply require the disclosure of product ingredients, opposing taxes on candy, opposing bottle bills, opposing all restrictions on BPA-containing packaging, opposing standards for food processing, and opposing school nutrition standards.
To be clear: "GMA submitted testimony in opposition to mandated school nutrition standards."
That the American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians can claim that Coca-Cola is committed to improving childhood health in the face of this company's opposition to even the most basic school nutrition standards is, in my opinion, despicable.
And whether they like it or not, through their support of Coca-Cola, the ADA, AAP, and AAFP are supporting a company that opposes school nutrition standards. Moreover, by supporting Coca-Cola, they are shooting themselves in the foot because whether they like it or not, their corporate partnerships are actually working to: oppose any and all taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks), oppose the removal of BPA from bottles containing liquids consumed by infants, oppose legislation to simply require the disclosure of product ingredients, oppose taxes on candy, oppose bottle bills, oppose all restrictions on BPA-containing packaging, oppose standards for food processing, and oppose school nutrition standards.
Despite the public statements of Coca-Cola about how it is committed to improving school nutrition, when it really comes down to it, the company is opposed to every reasonable measure - even the most basic school nutrition standards. Just like the tobacco companies used to do, Coca-Cola is talking out of one side of its mouth, and out of the other, it is working behind the scenes to oppose the very measures that it purports to support.
That the AAP, AAFP, and ADA have fallen for Coca-Cola's tricks is one possibility. The other, which I find more likely, is that they have been bought off. In other words, that the receipt of large amounts of money has caused them to look the other way. It's amazing what a little financial support will do. And of course, this is precisely the reason why companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsico include the sponsorship of public health organizations in their marketing plans.