by Marion Nestle
Feb 17 2010

Should our national heart agency partner with Coke?

I went to the reception last week for Diet Coke’s red dress event,:

Diet Coke and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health have joined forces to raise awareness about women’s risk of heart disease — in support of NHLBI’s The Heart Truth campaign — with a multi-faceted program that will reach consumers across the nation.

To celebrate American Heart Month in February, Diet Coke’s Red Dress Program will take center stage at high-profile events, including sponsorship of The Heart Truth’s, Red Dress Collection fashion show at Fashion Week 2008. Diet Coke will also unveil new packaging and programs featuring The Heart Truth and Red Dress logos and messages on heart health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest points out that Coca-Cola, whose products are not exactly heart healthy, is a strange partner for the NHLBI.  The agency should reconsider.  It wrote NHLBI to say so.

New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope asks: “Should Coke talk about heart health?”

I don’t know how long Diet Coke and NHLBI have been engaged in this partnership but it is surely more than five years.  From NHLBI’s point of view, the partnership publicizes the risk of heart disease to women.  For Coca-Cola, the benefits are obvious.

Are such partnerships a benign win-win?  History suggests otherwise.  In 1984, Kellogg cooked up a partnership with the National Cancer Institute to put health claims for fiber on the boxes of All-Bran cereals (I discuss this incident in Food Politics).  In doing so, Kellogg (and NCI) went around the FDA and undermined that agency’s control over health claims on food packages.  This let to the current mess over health claims, which the FDA is now trying to clean up.

Update March 3: The Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University has filed a petition to NHLBI to give up the partnership.

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  • Subvert

    I recently read a quote from Jaron Lanier:

    “Funding a civilization through advertising is like trying to get nutrition by connecting a tube from one’s anus to one’s mouth”

    It kept popping into my head as I read this excerpt…

  • Louis Collins

    I think history does much more than simply suggest “othwerise.” I think it shouts in a loud and clear voice that when for-profit meets anything with the word “truth” in it that the profit will drown the truth every time. And drowning isn’t fun, even if it is, in this case, in vat after vat of useless sugar water and secret flavors.

    I hope the folks who favor truth listen to the CSPI’s warning.

  • Louis Collins

    Pardon my typing but “othwerise” should read “otherwise.”

  • I read about this on the NY Times blog, and after thinking about it, I definitely don’t think Coke should be a promoter against heart disease. It’s entirely hypocritical. While it’s fine that Coke produces soda (we’re humans, and treats can be fun), they shouldn’t be advocating for health, which is in direct contrast with their unhealthy product. Use the money for sustainability or some other good cause, but not on an issue that you are actually contributing to!

  • Cassie

    This reminds me of the yogurt/pink ribbon campaign. My daughter’s school was promoting this, with all the teachers contributing their yogurt caps. However, the yogurt in question is full of additives that are unhealthy, and may even contribute to things like cancer.

    So, eat more additives, get cancer more quickly, and hope that the pink ribbon campaign has created enough funding to cure your cancer.

    The only entity that benefits here is the yogurt manufacturer.

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  • Utterly despicable – What has happened to good old fashioned integrity?!

  • Melody

    Do you think the American Diabetes Association should ‘partner’ with Cadbury-Schweppes??

  • hey subvert, thank u 4 that post. LOL, but so very tru ! & 2 foodfitnessfreshair-its that attitude -we r human & treats can b fun (soda etc.) that keeps those slimebags producing the very treats that r killing this country.until u stop lookin at all the junk that we eat as a reward or ‘treat’ we r doomed. learn how 2 cook & bake in a healthy & delicious way so u can eat real treats not the poisons every1 has been brainwashed in2 ingesting.there is enough nutrition,fitness & health ignorance out there,lets not perpetuate it.we r tryin 2 help people not enable them by havin a childs attitude !

  • roger

    what can they be thinking? how is this possible?

  • Coke and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute? I think it’s crazy, but when McDonald’s is sponsoring the Olympics and showing commercials implying that fast food is food fit for Olympians, it doesn’t surprise me at all. People need to get informed about food (and “food”) and avoid it. If people weren’t drinking Coke, then that company wouldn’t have this partnership.

    Wouldn’t it be great if NHLBI was sponsored by Salad?

  • It’s amazing how much healthier my children eat since we stopped watching TV. I think a good basic rule for food choice is; if it’s advertised, don’t eat it.

  • cat delett,ur post,like subvert’s gives me hope 4 @ least some people !

  • I am living in Mexico, 2nd in the world for obesity. Recently I had a patient 33 years old, just had a baby had precampsia during pregnancy, hypertention continues, had one previous hospitalization for hypertension in her 20s is overweight, She stated drinking one coke daily since childhood, mom used to give it to her “in the bottle”…….her eating habits are not the greatest either but……….

  • Coca cola and heart health? Why don’t we just put soda vending machines in hospital rooms, it would do as much good.

    It really befuddles me that anyone would think this is a good idea.

    It is bad enough that the FDA refuses to put warning labels on cans of tuna about the mercury content, and that they look the other way on BPA in can linings.

    Now…. if the soda companies, for example, were assessed fees to help pay for treating the health problems they’ve wrought, that would be one thing. Part of the problem? Okay, you’re funding the solution whether you think it is fair or not.

    (And on a different note, I thought the aspartame in diet coke was implicated in neuropathy?)

  • Christy

    Listen guys… it’s all about money… sadly the National Heart Agency is partnering with a beverage company who is slowly killing the population.. tell me how that makes sense. But I’m sure Coca Cola is donating a lot of money to cover their asses and mask their aspertaine reputation by “joining the cause.”

    P.S. money is the root of all evil… Eg: BigPHarma

  • I cringed when I saw all the ads for junk food during the Olympics and how they’re associated with premier athletes, as if that’s the secret to their performance.

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  • Wayne Andersen

    I didn’t see a mention of the thyroid (and perhaps master hormones) and how it related to HFCS.

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