Currently browsing posts about: Partnerships

Feb 24 2014

A big week for Let’s Move! It starts, alas, with WAT-AAH!

Rumors are flying that Let’s Move! will announce significant accomplishments this week.

From what I can piece together from ProPolitico and press conference announcements, they go on all week.

  • Tuesday: School wellness policies
  • Wednesday: Food assistance programs other than SNAP
  • Thursday:  The Nutrition Facts label

These promise to be more useful than Mrs. Obama’s visit to the New Museum in New York to celebrate a pop-up exhibit organized by WAT-AAH!, a company that makes bottled water—marketed specifically to kids.

The company is a supporter of Let’s Move!’s Drink Up! campaign.

Its bottled waters are “functional,” meaning ostensibly nutritionally enhanced in some way.

For example, its “Power” product says it is:

Ultra pure water!

Bone-building magnesium!

Absolutely NO SUGAR!

Taste like pure clean water!

Sounds like plain, ordinary water to me (unless the amount of magnesium is substantial, which seems unlikely—I can’t find a Nutrition Facts label for it).

The idea here is to get kids who won’t drink water to drink bottled water aimed specifically at them—at $1.50 a pop.

This was great publicity for the company, but I sure wish Drink Up! would emphasize how terrific tap water is, especially in New York City, where it really is terrific.

Added comments:  A reader points out that WAT-AAH!’s health claims are difficult to substantiate (e.g., boosted oxygen level, brain function), and are just the kinds of claims that concern the FTC.  

And, despite Drink Up!’s public stance on how tap water is just fine, WAT-AAH! puts down tap water.  To check both the claims and the put down, go to the website, click on WAT-AAH! Drinks!, then on Just the Facts, and scroll on down.  

You will find plenty of highly iffy health claims, along with this:

Screenshot 2014-02-24 14.36.38

OK, so this is about marketing so what’s the big deal?  I can think of several reasons for concern:

  • It’s marketing bottled water.
  • It’s marketing directly to kids.
  • It’s marketed with absurd health claims.
  • It claims to be substantially better for kids than tap water.
  • It’s endorsed by the First Lady.

The FTC has gone after health claims just like these.  Can it go after WAT-AAH!’s claims and, thereby, take on the First Lady?

This is what happens—all too often—when health programs try to partner with private industry.  The private industry invariably wins, and the health partner loses credibility.

 

Jan 24 2013

An open letter to Registered Dietetians and RDs in training: response to yesterday’s comments

My post yesterday about Michele Simon’s report on food company sponsorship of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) elicited a wealth of thoughtful comments.  These are well worth careful consideration.

Many express disappointment that I would suggest that corporate sponsorship might influence their thinking or practice, that other nutrition professionals have equal or better education, that I singled out AND when other nutrition and health organizations also accept food industry funds, or that I am unsympathetic to their plight (they are required to be AND members whether or not they agree with its policies).

Let me clarify:

On the effects of corporate sponsorship: I don’t know a single individual who thinks that taking money from food companies influences personal opinion or practice, but research on the effects of drug—and food—company sponsorship demonstrates otherwise.    At the very least, sponsorship gives the appearance of conflict of interest.  Individuals and organizations who accept sponsorship from soda companies, for example, can hardly be expected to advise the public to drink less soda.

On education: my point here is not that dietetic education is inadequate but that other nutritionists without such training may be equally qualified to advise the public about diet and health.

On other organizations:  That other nutrition and health organizations accept funds from food companies has long been a point of discussion on this blog (click on Partnerships).  I am especially concerned  about the practices of the American Society of Nutrition, to which I belong.  Its embarrassing role in the Smart Choices fiasco was an example of why nutrition professional organizations should avoid getting involved in such alliances.

On sympathy: I have plenty.  Food company sponsorships create painful dilemmas for nutrition professionals and each of us must figure out our own way to deal with them.  I have written about my own struggles with this issue in Food Politics and elsewhere.

I especially appreciate the comments from those of you engaged in your own struggles with this issue within AND.  You have your work cut out for you.  Here, for example, is the response of your president, Dr. Ethan Bergman, to Simon’s report. He writes [and see addition below]:

There is one indisputable fact in the report about the Academy’s sponsorship program: We have one. And for the record, I support the Academy’s sponsorship program, as does the Board of Directors and our members.

Let me make it clear that the Academy does not tailor our messages or programs in any way due to influence by corporate sponsors and this report does not provide evidence to the contrary.

…As members of a science-based organization, I encourage you to not take all information you see at face value, always consider the source (in this case, an advocate who has previously shown her predisposition to find fault with the Academy) and seek out the facts.

My interpretation: ignore the message because the messenger is not one of us.

As nutrition professionals, we ignore such messages at our peril.  If we want the public to trust what we say, our views cannot be perceived as compromised by financial ties to food companies.

What you can do.  If, as some of you noted, you oppose corporate sponsorship and would like to do something about it, here are a few suggestions:

  • Let your voice be heard: write letters, post blogs, send tweets.
  • Make it clear to colleagues and clients that you oppose current policies on corporate sponsorship.
  • Provide evidence that your organization can do just fine without the money.
  • Join committees and groups within your organization; say what you think.
  • Organize petition campaigns.
  • Run for office; run a slate for office.

If you want the policy to change, work for it.

But don’t be discouraged if nothing much happens right away.  Change takes time.  Keep at it.

Thanks to all of you for taking this issue so seriously.  Let’s keep working together to find ways to keep food company money out of our professional lives.

Addition, January 25: a reader, Craig, points out that Coca-Cola gave Dr. Bergman the opportunity to carry the torch at last summer’s Olympic games.  A news story about this event quotes Dr. Bergman on the Academy’s partnership:

I think the philosophy that Coca Cola has through its Live Positively campaign, and our philosophy at the academy, is about trying to improve the nation’s health through better nutrition and fitness so this fits in well with our cause.

 

Jan 22 2013

New study: Big Food’s ties to Registered Dietitians

Michele Simon, president of Eat, Drink, Politics, an industry watchdog consulting group, has just published an exposé of the close financial relationships between food and beverage companies and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly the American Dietetic Association).

Her hard-hitting report, And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food? provides ample evidence that partnerships and alliances with Big Food make it impossible for AND members to convey clear and accurate messages about nutrition and health.

When she talks about nutrition professionals, she doesn’t mean me.  I have a PhD (in molecular biology, although long lapsed) and a master’s in Public Health Nutrition.  She means AND members.  AND represents more than 70,000 individuals who mostly hold credentials as Registered Dietitians (RDs).

To qualify, they had to complete a bachelor’s degree that included a specified set of courses and a 6-month clinical internship.  I once tried to get credentialed as an RD after I completed a qualifying internship but I had never had a practical course in food service management.  That lack was a deal breaker.

Never mind.  Here’s what Simon’s report is about:

And here are a small selection of her observations and conclusions:

  • AND collected $1.85 million in sponsorship funds in 2011, a relatively small percentage of its $34 million income.
  • Companies such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nestlé, and PepsiCo offer approved continuing education courses to AND members.
  • Two of the messages conveyed by one of Coca-Cola’s courses: sugar is not harmful to children, and federal nutrition standards for school meals are too restrictive.
  • More than 20% of speakers at AND’s annual meeting have financial ties to Big Food companies, although most were not disclosed.
  • A survey found 80% of members to believe that sponsorship implies an AND endorsement of the sponsor’s products.
  • A majority of AND members believe that three current sponsors are unacceptable: Coca-Cola, Mars, and PepsiCo.

If you want to see how sponsorship plays out in practice, take a look at her photographs of the exhibit hall at the 2012 AND annual meeting.  She also provides photos taken elsewhere at the meeting.  And here’s the New York Times’ take on it.

As a trade association for Registered Dietitians, AND—as I discussed in Food Politics—has as its primary goal to position RDs as the leading source of nutrition information for patients, clients, and the public.

As you might imagine, I’ve always had a bit of trouble with that goal.

For one thing, nutritionists with master’s and doctoral degrees are likely to know more than RDs about nutrition science and to think more critically about it.

For another, that self-interested goal creates an image problem.  RDs might be accepted as more credible sources if their primary goal was to improve the nutritional health of the American people.

Their advice also would be more credible if AND were not so heavily linked to food and beverage corporations, especially those whose products contribute to poor health.

Let’s hope this new report gets AND members talking about how to change some current AND policies.

Jan 8 2013

A Man. A Plan. Panamá!

On vacation in Panamá, I found few visible signs of food politics.

I had asked to visit the mountain site where genetically modified salmon are being raised in the mountains (see previous post).  Not a chance.

This made me even more curious.  I conducted an informal survey of every educated Panamanian I met:

  • Are you aware that genetically modified salmon are being raised in your country?
  • Do you care?

The answers: No and No.

I found only two exceptions: (1) a government official impressed by what he told me were five levels of security to make sure the fish don’t escape, and (2) an associate of the soon-to-open biodiversity museum (designed by Frank Gehry) who hoped that the museum could be a forum for such issues.

Both confirmed that the newspapers said nothing about GM salmon and that few people knew about them.

A chef’s reaction: Panamanian salmon!  He couldn’t wait to get some.

But I did see this Christmas display along the Avenida Balboa.

The Coca-Cola banner also says Alcaldía de Panamá: trabajando para ti (Mayor of Panamá City: working for you).

Happy new year!  Happy to be back.

Dec 18 2012

Let’s Ask Marion: Beyoncé’s Bubbly Branding Falls Flat

It’s been awhile since Kerry Trueman posed an “Ask Marion” question, but here’s her latest Q and my A  as posted on Civil Eats.

By  on 
Q. From the moment Beyoncé strapped on those silly stilettos to bounce around in the “Move Your Body” video, she’s been a wobbly spokesperson for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign.” Now she’s signed a $50 million dollar deal with Pepsi, which will presumably entail her exhorting her millions of young fans to baste their bodies in bubbly high fructose corn syrup.

Apparently, she didn’t get the childhood obesity/diabetes epidemic memo. Do celebrities with Beyoncé’s massive influence on young kids have a moral obligation to consider the horrendous impact of excessive soda consumption in our culture when they mull over megabuck branding opportunities?

A.  From my privileged position as a tenured, full-salaried faculty member at NYU, the answer is an unambiguous yes. Beyoncé will now be marketing sugar-sweetened beverages, products increasingly linked to childhood obesity, especially among minority children.

This linkage is not a coincidence. Pepsi and other makers of sugary sodas deliberately and systematically market their products to low-income, minority children.

Beyoncé will now be part of that targeted marketing campaign.

If Beyoncé’s mission is to inspire young people of any color to look gorgeous and rise to the top, as she has done, she is now telling them that the way to get there—and to get rich—is to drink Pepsi. This untrue suggestion is, on its own, unethical.

Pepsi must think that getting this message out, and putting Beyoncé’s photo on its soda cans, is well worth $50 million.

For PepsiCo, $50 million is trivial. According to Advertising Age (June 2012), PepsiCo sold $66.5 billion worth of products in 2011, for a profit of $6.4 billion. Pepsi sales in the U.S. accounted for $22 billion of that.

PepsiCo’s total advertising budget funneled through advertising agencies, and therefore reportable, was $944 million. Of that amount, $196 million was used to market Pepsi alone. The rest went for Gatorade ($105 million), Mountain Dew ($23 million) and PepsiCo’s many other Quaker and Frito-Lay products.

One other relevant point: half of PepsiCo’s annual sales are outside the United States. Like other multinational food companies, it is focusing marketing efforts on emerging economies. This means that Beyoncé will also be pushing sugary drinks on people in developing countries. PepsiCo just spent $72 million to sponsor cricket tournaments in India, for example.

Fifty million dollars seems like an unimaginable amount of money to me. If PepsiCo offered it to me, I would have to turn it down on the grounds of conflict of interest. But this is easy for me to say, because the scenario is so unlikely.

What $50 million means for Beyoncé I cannot know. Some sources estimate her net worth at $300 million. If so, $50 million adds a substantial percentage. And the Pepsi deal will give her phenomenal exposure.

But from where I sit, Beyoncé has crossed an ethical line. She is now pushing soft drinks on the very kids whose health is most at risk. And her partnership with Pepsi will make public health measures to counter obesity even more difficult.

This is a clear win for Pepsi. And a clear loss for public health.

Beyoncé has now become the world’s most prominent spokesperson for poor diets, obesity and its health consequences, and marketing targeted to the most vulnerable populations.

Sad.

Nov 16 2012

Chicago emulates New York’s public health policies? Not quite.

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not exactly Michael Bloomberg when it comes to public health approaches to obesity and chronic disease prevention.

In October, he announced that he’d gotten Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper Snapple to agree to post calorie information on vending machines in Chicago government buildings (something that they will have to do anyway whenever the FDA ever gets around to issuing final rules for menu labeling).

At the same time, he announced a health competition between Chicago city workers and those in San Antonio with rewards paid by the American Beverage Association through a $5 million gift.  This partnership was widely interpreted as a ploy to stave off the kind of soda tax and cap initiatives proposed by the Bloomberg administration in New York City.

And now, in yet another deal with soda companies, Mayor Emanuel has accepted a $3 million grant from Coca-Cola to pay for a park district program “to fight obesity and diabetes by offering nutrition education as well as exercise classes run by armed forces veterans.”

If the idea of soda companies funding anti-obesity campaigns strikes you as ironic—don’t sodas have something to do with obesity in the first place?— you need to understand Mayor Emanuel’s point of view.

His stated philosophy is that it’s better “to give people personal responsibility and the information necessary to make the right choices about their health than it is to legislate their behavior.”

Maybe so, but when faced with today’s “eat more” food environment, personal responsibility doesn’t stand a chance.

But wait: Isn’t Chicago making an important environmental change?  Its public schools are banning energy drinks.

Well, almost.

The new policy sets nutrition standards for all vending machine food and a la carte items sold in cafeterias and excludes energy drinks—with one exception: Gatorade, a PepsiCo product, “can only be used after students have engaged in a school sports activity.”

Are public health partnerships with soda companies a good idea?  The money is nice and undoubtedly badly needed, but worth the price?  Mayor Emanuel thinks so.

I’m dubious.

Jul 13 2012

American Beverage Association sponsors conference on obesity in minorities?

I’ve just learned that I’m missing a Focus on Obesity conference in Washington DC today, organized by The Root as part of its Black, Fit & Healthy initiative.

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.

Nov 10 2011

Coca-Cola v. Grand Canyon: donations come with short strings

I’m always saying that food company donations and partnerships to health and environmental Good Causes end up doing more for the companies than the recipients.  Money always talks.  Accepting corporate donations comes with strings that create conflicts of interest.

The latest evidence for these assertions comes from the Grand Canyon’s efforts to get plastic water and soda bottles out of the park.  These account for a whopping 30% of its waste.

According to the account in today’s New York Times, Coca-Cola, one of the park’s big donors, convinced the National Park Service to block the bottle ban.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled.

The Times quotes Mr. Martin:

That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being influenced unduly by business…It was even more of a concern because we had worked with all the people who would be truly affected in their sales and bottom line, and they accepted it.

It also quotes a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, Susan Stribling:

the company would rather help address the plastic litter problem by increasing the availability of recycling programs. “Banning anything is never the right answer…If you do that, you don’t necessarily address the problem…You’re not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume.”

And throw plastic bottles into the park, I guess.

This sordid episode explains why Coke gives millions to the Grand Canyon.  In a word, greenwashing.

Oops.

Coke needs to change its position on this one.  And so does the Park Service.

 

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