Monthly Archives: February 2011

Editorial warns health organizations to avoid partnerships with Big Food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Highly processed, calorie-rich food is heavily marketed, highly profitable, and is one of the major causes of skyrocketing rates of child and adult obesity. The ubiquity of such foods in our society is said to create an “obesogenic environment.” So should the American Academy of Family Physicians accept a large grant from the Coca Cola Company to fund a consumer nutrition education website? Should the Heart and Stroke Foundation raise funds by selling pizzas from Boston Pizza? A hardhitting editorial by Yoni Freedhoff and Paul Hébert in the Canadian Medical Association Journal enumerates the benefits to food companies, and the risks to health organizations, in entering into such partnerships.

  1. For the food industry, partnerships with health organizations buy credibility and consumer loyalty.
  2. In many cases, partnerships with health organizations directly increase sales, as when Yum! Brands partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to sell buckets of fried chicken.
  3. Such partnerships may help leverage corporate lobbying efforts, as when Coca-Cola’s CEO used the company’s alliance with AAFP to help argue that soda taxes were unnecessary.
  4. Although the obesity epidemic is primarily fueled by the consumption of excess calories, these partnerships are used by the food industry to promote the misleading message that inactivity, rather than its products, is the main cause of obesity.

The authors conclude that health organizations, even when desperate for money, should avoid partnering with the food industry. The editorial and an appendix enumerating examples of partnerships between the food industry and health organizations are freely available, so I urge you to read them in their entirety.

See comments by my fellow bloggers Larry Husten, Gary Schwitzer and Howard Brody. Hat tip to Yoni Freedhoff.

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