by Marion Nestle
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.

  • Teiji

    Hmm I’m very interested in seeing how on earth the ABA can possibly make this conference seem credible without blasting their own products. If they manage to not mention ‘drinking calories’ as a major issue in concert with somehow promoting their own products, the conference might as well be a circus.

  • I have identified one good thing that you can do with a can of Coke …

  • mickey

    Just yesterday I noticed an aggressive lunch time “give away” of a new Pepsi product in Boston’s Copley Square. The word is “real cola with 60% less sugar “(plus artificial sweeteners). I think the soda people are scrambling to position themselves ahead of any move for good public health policy. Keep us addicted and make us think we are making progress.

  • It gets worse…

    The school based solutions panel is the one sponsored by the ABA, which is participating.

    I can see it now:

    “Sugar is good for kids. It provides energy!”

  • Could it possibly be that some company members of ABA, or the associaton itself, are quite aware that they are perceived as contributors to the nation’s obesity situation? Could it be that they may genuinely wish to contribute to the generation of possible remedies or preventative measures? Just askin…

  • Mary

    ABA is probably there to promote exercise and consumer responsibility as the means to end obesity. I don’t think the organization wants to accept responsibility for the problem created by over marketing and consumption of soft drinks and other high calorie low nutrient beverages.

  • If you visit the site of The Root, you find a series of interviews of “personalities” about obesity in the African-American community.
    I have read several of them (not all) and I have not seen one word about drinks. If they mention sugar it’s only in reference to “food”, never drinks!!! Really amazing. The main argument is “walk”… like in this interview… Really requires a “corrective move”

  • Here is the link where all the articles/interviews in the series are listed (with 0 reference to soft drinks in any I read, not one):

  • Well, hard to say. On the surface, it’s a good thing to have this kind of conversation happening. However, The Association is beholden to it’s membership, which is indeed Coke/Pepsi. They won’t be doing anything like this unless it’s going to support the bottom line.

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