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.