Black Americans have the highest rates of obesity, and a conference devoted to promoting healthy diets in this population seems like a good idea. This one has an impressive list of speakers. Sam Kass, Michele Obama’s chef and food policy adviser, is giving the keynote, and many of the speakers are associated with government or private groups devoted to improving the diets, physical activity, and overall health of Black Americans.
The sponsors got my attention. Two are the Office of Minority Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, and HBO, which produced the Weight of the Nation obesity documentary I discussed a few weeks ago.
But the third is the American Beverage Association (ABA), the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and other sugary drinks linked to poor diets and overweight among children and adults.
This is the group that so opposes Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed bad on soft drinks larger than 16 ounces.
Not only that, but as documented by the Rudd Center at Yale, ABA members devote special efforts to marketing their products to Black Americans. Advertising Age notes that the soft drink industry makes no apologies for targeting minorities and considers it “smart marketing.”
The Rudd study’s findings:
- Soda ads made up 13% of the ads on black prime time shows, compared with 2% of ads on general prime time shows.
- Soft drinks were 13.5% of ads with non-whites (almost exclusively blacks) compared with 6.2 percent of ads with whites.
- Exposure to SSB [sugar-sweetened beverage] ads decreased over time at all ages, but the decrease was less for black than white children.
- As for outdoor advertising, Black and Latino neighborhoods had the most ads for higher calorie/low-nutrient foods, including sugary beverages.
The irony: soft drink companies are sponsoring a conference to solve a health problem that their products helped cause in the first place.
Want to take bets on whether any of the speakers suggests cutting down on sodas or “don’t drink your calories”?
Rumors, as yet unverified, are flying:
- The American Beverage Association dreamed this conference up as a public relations move to position sodas as a solution to minority obesity, not its cause.
- Several of the speakers are former employees of, or have ties to, Coca-Cola.
- The Washington Post will be running a special section on the conference next week, flanked with American Beverage Association advertisements
If this last one is true, please save me a copy.
In the meantime, think about who is likely to derive the greatest benefit from this co-sponsorship alliance: the Office of Minority Health, Black Americans, or corporate members of the American Beverage Association.