Tuesday, September 11, 2012

American Diabetes Association and American Dietetic Association Sell Themselves Out, Sacrificing their Health Mission for Money

Two national organizations that were previously committed to improving the public's health by fighting unhealthy eating have sacrificed their health missions, selling out to Big Soda in order to yield tens of thousands of dollars, while at the same time allowing themselves to be used as a public relations and marketing tool for the Coca-Cola Company.

According to a press release issued on August 31 by the Coca-Cola Company, the American Diabetes Association has accepted $125,000 from Coca-Cola and the American Dietetic Association has accepted $100,000 from Coca-Cola. These donations were originally reported over at the Fooducate blog in a post entitled "Here's How Coke is Buying the Silence of Health Organizations. For Pocket Change."

In the Fooducate post, Hemi Weingarten writes: "This is simply unfathomable. How can the American Diabetes Association in its right mind take money from the company that contributes the most to this terrible disease? More than 20 million Americans suffer from Type 2 diabetes, and most of them acquired it from overloading their bodies with junk foods and drinks. Liquid candy like Coke shares the responsibility. Another 75 million Americans are well on their way to diabetes because of excess consumption. Please, please, please, don’t bring up the “moderation” angle, or tell us that there are no bad foods (drinks). Sugary soft drinks cannot be consumed in moderation when they are pushed into our faces with $10,000,000,000.00 worth of marketing spend every year. Do you really think a measly education pamphlet or 30 minute community center class has a chance against the marketing might of Coke’s top notch ad agencies?"

"Coke has paid less than a hundredth of a percent of its marketing budget to buy the silence of these organizations and their leaders. How can they now be firm and adamant when they shook hands with Coke executives and took their money? The American Dietetic Association has an annual budget of around $100 million. Does it really need to take money from Coca Cola?"

According to the Fooducate blog, the American Dietetic Association responded to the post, arguing that the Coca-Cola donation is not buying their silence: "Ryan O’Malley, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (now know as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) emailed us with the following response:
…to say that Coca-Cola’s donation is buying our silence is just factually inaccurate and irresponsible. To demonstrate, here are several examples from the Kids Eat Right website itself encouraging families to limit and stop their consumption of sugary beverages and soft drinks.
You just cannot honestly say that their support buys our silence, as we always have and will continue to encourage consumers to reduce and even omit sugary beverages from their diet."

The Rest of the Story

Actually, Weingarten has understated the case against the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA2). Not only has their silence been bought, but they now have effectively become marketing arms of the Coca-Cola corporation. By accepting Coca-Cola's money, the ADA and ADA2 are allowing Coca-Cola to use them as part of its marketing plan. Corporate sponsorships not only buy silence from public health organizations, but they also allow the companies to boast about their support of "health causes," thus boosting their public image and ultimately, their bottom line: sales.

While O'Malley tries to argue that the ADA's silence has not been bought because the organization is apparently "bold" enough to come out publicly and suggest that families limit their consumption of soft drinks, the ADA has never supported evidence-based policies that have been shown to actually reduce soft drink consumption, such as taxes on soft drinks. In fact, the ADA has virtually opposed soft drink taxes. Moreover, the ADA has been silent on Coca-Cola's role in lobbying against almost every effective school nutrition bill in state legislatures. And I defy anyone to find information on the ADA's web site about the billions of dollars that Coke is spending annually to market its sugar-laden products. Given the role of soda marketing in the obesity epidemic, that is what I call total silence.

In fact, the public's health would be better served if the ADA were completely silent. The media outreach that it is doing stands in opposition to what many of us in public health are trying to accomplish through policy measures to reduce soft drink consumption. Concurrent with its acceptance of money from Coca-Cola, the ADA has actually become an enemy of critical public health measures to reduce obesity, not merely an innocent bystander, and at the far extreme from being a leader in the nutrition policy movement.

The American Diabetes Association's acceptance of money from Coca-Cola is perhaps even more mind-boggling. If there is a way that the ADA2 could more effectively undermine its message about the role of diet in diabetes prevention and treatment, I certainly can't think of one.

Corporate marketing - including the billions of dollars spent annually by Coca-Cola - undeniably contribute significantly to the public health problems of poor nutrition, obesity, and diabetes. The silence of the American Dietetic Association and American Diabetes Association has been effectively bought by Coke because these organizations are not going to highlight the role of this corporate marketing in the causation of the public health problems which they purport to be fighting. Instead, they will continue to focus on education: an approach we know is failing as sugar-sweetened beverage consumption increases yearly despite all of the education we are doing.

Hemi Weingarten said it best: "Sugary soft drinks cannot be consumed in moderation when they are pushed into our faces with $10,000,000,000.00 worth of marketing spend every year. Do you really think a measly education pamphlet or 30 minute community center class has a chance against the marketing might of Coke’s top notch ad agencies?"

We can now rule out the American Dietetic Association and American Diabetes Association as public health partners in the fight to take on the Big Soda industry and counteract its marketing. Instead, these organizations are now serving as pawns in Big Soda's marketing strategy. And even worse, the ADA is praising Coca-Cola and helping market its sugar-laden soft drinks by helping to improve the company's public image.

The American Diabetes Association now pays homage to Coca-Cola on its web site: "Like ADA, Coca-Cola understands that a healthy lifestyle involves balancing many different elements — staying physically active, consuming a balanced diet, getting enough rest — and even keeping a positive attitude. We are proud to partner with ADA to help provide Americans with information that allows them to make informed decisions about their personal well-being."

Yes - Coca-Cola, the company that spends billions of dollars promoting sugar-laden soft drinks, opposes school nutrition legislation, and lobbies against taxes that would reduce soda consumption is truly providing Americans with what they need to make healthy decisions.

What crap! The American Dietetic Association has sacrificed all semblance of public health principles, and it's clear that the money from Coca-Cola has contributed to its defection from public health to becoming a marketing partner for the sugar-laden soft drink industry.

And now, standing shoulder to shoulder with Coca-Cola and the ADA in the marketing of soft drinks through their participation in its corporate sponsorship initiatives is the American Diabetes Association. With enemies like these, the corporations that are contributing to deteriorating diet and increased obesity and diabetes do not even need friends. These so-called health groups are playing a greater role in the marketing of soft drinks than soft drink companies could ever imagine. The $225,000 or so that the Coca-Cola company has spent to silence the American Dietetic Association and American Diabetes Association was well-spent. It has resulted in health organizations joining with Coca-Cola in the marketing and public relations activities of the Coca-Cola corporation.

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