by Marion Nestle
Dec 20 2012

Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal: Implications for Let’s Move!

In response to my post a couple of days ago about Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal, a reader asks:

How do you think the White House should respond to this deal.? Beyoncé’s song is featured on White House website and a Let’s Move! t-shirt she designed is given to kids at official events.  Will kids make the connection?  Can all that dancing overcome the effects of eating too much?

Let me deal with these one at a time.  First, the problem this poses to Let’s Move!  People concerned about the role of sugary sodas in childhood obesity are appalled by Beyoncé’s deal with Pepsi, so much so that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has organized a campaign to call on her to reconsider.   Unless she does reconsider and withdraws from the deal, her continued involvement with Let’s Move! raises exactly the questions you ask.

Beyoncé has just put Let’s Move! in a painfully awkward conflict of interest.  On the one hand, Let’s Move! promotes healthy diet and activity patterns to reverse childhood obesity.  On the other, its celebrity spokesperson is now going to be pushing Pepsi.  Beyoncé’s image will now appear on Pepsi cans—I hope not wearing her Let’s Move! tee shirt.

What the Beyoncé deal points out is the hazard of partnerships and alliances between public health groups and food companies.

In April 2011, the Washington Post reported that “A White House spokesman said that the first lady and her team weren’t involved in the making of the clip but that Beyonce is “a great example of how people can get involved with ‘Let’s Move!’ and bring this message to more and more young people.”

But now this.  The White House has long maintained that food and beverage companies are not going away and that it is obliged to work with them.  Maybe, but on whose terms?  I see Beyoncé’s $50 million partnership with Pepsi as a slap in the face to Let’s Move!  It puts Let’s Move! in the position of promoting Pepsi or asking Beyoncé to withdraw from having anything to do with it.

As for how kids are going to figure this out:  All kids know is that Beyoncé is a gorgeous mega-star, one who is able to perform vigorous dance moves in astonishingly high heels, and that Pepsi helps her do so or at least doesn’t hurt.  Beyoncé is especially a role-model for African-American kids.  Pepsi targets its marketing to African-American kids.  This looks like a serious conflict of interest.

On the balance between diet and activity: How I wish that physical activity alone could reverse obesity.  Physical activity is terrific for health (I’m not sure about those stiletto heels) but it’s rarely enough to reverse obesity on its own.  To lose weight—and, these days, to maintain healthy weight—kids absolutely must eat less and eat better.

Beyoncé has done Michelle Obama no favor by getting involved with Pepsi.  This is a mess, and not one that can be gracefully fixed.

  • http://www.101Incredible.com Ken Leebow

    Telling that Mrs. Obama made this observation a few months back: “You wouldn’t think of watering a plant with soda.”

  • Sean

    I posted the following message on Beyonce’s Facebook wall. I encourage others to do the same.

    “I think your decision to endorse Pepsi is a slap in the face for the “Let’s Move” campaign which encourages kids to be active and engage in a healthy lifestyle. Excessive consumption of sugary drinks are the very reason why so many children are obese and/or unhealthy in this country. Many children and adults look up to you and for you to sell out for 50 million (how much is too much) to endorse what is really liquid candy is appalling. I hope you reconsider.”

  • http://hopefulgeranium.blogspot.co.nz/ George @ the High Fat hep C Diet

    In fact in some parts of the world farmers do water plants with Coke as it is an effective and cheap pesticide.

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  • joe

    Let’s Move/The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Acts has the force of law at the Federal level of government. According the the White House press release on the signing of the Act it will be funded to the tune of 4.5 billion dollars over the next ten years. The Act has thousands of school nutrition and Head Start programs throughout the country will serve as the front lines of the program for millions of American children serving them an endless supply of healthy foods and encouraging physical activity.

    You are telling me that a pop star, a measley $50 million dollars and a soft drink company can trump all of that? With all of the clout, influence and money of the government from the top down you can’t win the argument on the subject of healthy diets?

    I thought that if the government required things like healthy eating via the force of law that would be all that was needed to make us a healthy population of people?

    If all you can do is complain about getting beaten in the argument by Beyonce you need to revisit your message!

  • http://FeedOurFamilies.com Gina Rau

    This is what happens when money becomes more important than people. I have to believe that even if Beyoncé was paid for her involvement with Let’s Move that it was significantly less than her Pepsi goldmine.

    The big question is whether she’ll put children as a higher priority than money and acknowledge that she didn’t carefully consider the impact of her decision to promote conflicting messages to an audience of children who cannot adequately sort through the facts to make educated decisions.

  • Michael Bulger

    Joe, the money that is budgeted to programs in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is not all directed to nutrition education or anything else that might counter Beyonce’s marketing campaign. You might also be interested to know that the $4.5 billion you cite covers a ten-year period.

    The HHFKA money goes to administering the National School Lunch Program (determining which kids get reduced-price or free lunch), buying the actual meals, administering the WIC program, and a whole host of non-nutrition education programs.
    (Take a look here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/PL111-296_Summary.pdf).

    There is a “Local Wellness Program”, but it gets a measly $3 million a year. Training food service employees will get $1 million annually. Childcare wellness programs get $10 million for the entire 10-year period.

    Meanwhile, PepsiCo drops $50 million on a single mega-celebrity endorsement. As a regular commenter on this blog, I would think you would have come to terms with the fact that food companies spend far more on marketing than the government spends on nutrition education. I would also suspect you are familiar with the money corporations spend lobbying the government to stymie any “top-down” policies that might decrease company sales.

  • John

    “I thought that if the government required things like healthy eating via the force of law that would be all that was needed to make us a healthy population of people?” …Joe, you’re kidding right?

    As far as Beyonce goes, you don’t become the spokesperson for an anti smoking campaign and then endorse a pack of Marlboro’s. It’s that simple.

  • Tonya

    The worst thing about this contract is not just the slap in the face to Let’s Move but the spotlight it places on the mixed message that celebrities portray to kids about maintaining good health and keeping ‘beautiful’.

    Kids do not see that Beyonce (when touring or training) spends hours of her time exercising and that she probably has a paid chef making her meals and probably rarely drinks soda herself. That’s not the message that Pepsi will be paying her to sell. Unless they are going to change to “only have 7 ounces of Pepsi on special occasions and make sure to exercise and brush your teeth vigorously afterwards!” Doubt it.

  • Clarity 101

    Let’s be clear here. Clear on Calories labeling on soda cans is as far as Let’s Move is gonna move on the soda thing. Every single can of High Fructose Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter Corn Syrup will tell you exactly how many calories you’re about to swallow. Then, a visit to the competition’s UK calorie-burning calculator will let people know exactly how much high-heel dancing they must do to burn it off. http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/health/work-it-out-calculator.html

    From the Let’s Move accomplishment page
    “More and more families are seeing food and beverage packages with clear calorie information on grocery store shelves through a commitment from the American Beverage Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute to place clear calorie information on beverage and food packaging.”
    http://www.letsmove.gov/accomplishments

  • Clarity 101

    Beyonce and Pepsi have been in cahoots for over a decade, as Vibe illustrates – http://www.vibe.com/article/history-beyonces-relationship-pepsi

    Beyonce is perfect for Let’s Move. If the thing were called Let’s Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Fitness But Discourage Soda Among Our Nation’s Youth, well then perhaps Beyonce would not have enlisted.

  • sharon Brown

    beyonce is a business woman…and michelle obama is a politician…beyonce is smart enough to know that drinking sodas is not a smart thing… the unfortunate aspect of the pepsi deal,,, is that they paid beyonce to make videos and hold a can…but not to drink soda….
    beyonce didnt lose nor did michelle

    Pepsi looks like they will shell out looks of money for someone that doesnt drink the stuff…but will promote those who drink sodas …to continue having high blood pressure, diabetes, and issues with weight…how unfortunate!

  • Mari Tacket

    What she needs to do is suck it up and take a stand, say, “I screwed up” then tactfully dump Pepsi. They would help her tactfully get it dumped, they don’t want that kind of publicity. But doing that would take a lot of courage on her part, and an evaluation of what she really believes in and what she stands for. But I’m not sure if Beyonce takes the issue of food personally, or comprehends how food and its place in our society relates it to the wellbeing of millions of children. I mean if she didn’t get it before, she likely wont get it now… very sad. She could be such a champion, but its looking like she’s bought into the capitalist ideology, where money means everything. Bum deal!

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  • Me

    Let’s Move should dump Beyonce and adopt JLo or other acts famous for doing a whole lot of dancing. JLo has the added bonus of being a Latina.