Today the New York City Board of Health announces whether it will approve Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed 16 ounce sugary drink portion cap. As we await the news, take a look at how one beverage company reacted to the introduction of the proposal in May.
We all know of health organizations that accept funding from Coca-Cola or PepsiCo. This is a strategic move on the part of Big Soda to silence potential critics. Not too long ago, an email (below) was forwarded to me that appears to demonstrate how some health organizations have forged unusually close ties to Coca-Cola.
I have removed the email address and phone numbers of the sender as well as the email addresses of the recipients. But I will tell you that many of the recipients appear to be employed by large health or medical organizations. More on that in a moment. Please read the email:
From: “Helen E. Tarleton”
Sent: 05/31/2012 01:50 PM GMT
To: (I have removed)
Cc: (I have removed)
Subject: Coca-Cola statement on NYC Health Department new initiatives to “solve” obesity
As you may have seen in the news this morning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of sugar sweetened beverages over 16 ounces in NYC restaurants and food establishments. Diet beverages and other choices would be excluded from the ban. As a partner of Coca-Cola, I want share our perspective on this proposal and have included our statement below.
“The people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Health Department believes. We are transparent with our consumers. They can see exactly how many calories are in every beverage we serve.
We have prominently placed calorie counts on the front of our bottles and cans and in New York City, restaurants already post the calorie content of all their offerings and portion sizes — including soft drinks.
New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase. We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate.”
I also wanted to share an infographic that outlines the impact sugar sweetened beverages have on the total diet as reported in recent research. If you agree and are so inclined, we would appreciate your help in spreading this message to your networks. Thank you for your continued support of Coca-Cola. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Celeste or me.
Director, Living Well
The Coca-Cola Company
One Coca-Cola Plaza, USA1217D
Atlanta, GA 30313
Let me be clear that I have no criticism of Ms. Tarleton of Coca-Cola for doing her job and sharing her company’s position on the portion cap proposal with “partners.” What is astonishing to me is who is considered a partner of Coca-Cola. Of the 20 recipients on this email, 13 have email address domains that indicate they work for respected health or medical organizations. Those organizations are:
pcna.net (Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association)
aap.org (American Academy of Pediatrics)
aafp.org (American Academy of Family Physicians)
eatright.org (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetic Association)
partners.org (Partners Healthcare – founded by Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital)
acc.org (American College of Cardiology)
kp.org (Kaiser Permanente)
acsm.org (American College of Sports Medicine)
nbna.org (National Black Nurses Association)
macc-heart.com (Metropolitan Atlanta Cardiology Consultants, PC)
I have no idea if any of these groups spread Coca-Cola’s messages about the Bloomberg proposal to their networks, but to my knowledge not one of them publicly supported the sugary drink portion cap.
It has been widely reported over the past few years that three of these health organizations have corporate partnerships with Coca-Cola that brings them significant funding — the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), and the American Academy of Pediatrics. How a professional health or medical organization could help promote a soda company is beyond comprehension. And please don’t tell me that Coca-Cola makes non-sugary/diet drinks. When you partner with Coca-Cola, you are promoting the entire company and all of their brands.
Of the other health organizations on the recipient list, I have discovered quite the sordid history when it comes to accepting funding from Coca-Cola:
Coca-Cola is a sponsor of the American College of Cardiology’s CardioSmart initiative. On top of that the current president of ACC was one of 22 participants chosen by the Coca-Cola Company to carry the Olympic Flame as part of its Live Positively campaign.
The National Black Nurses Association has a long history of accepting funding from Coca-Cola. Recently, their Preventive Health Action Team – “PHAT,” benefiting 2,000 residents of African-American communities served by 15 local chapters of the Association, received $100,000 from the Coca-Cola Foundation.
Coca Cola is working with the American College of Sports Medicine to launch “Exercise is Medicine” (EIM™) as a global initiative. “Exercise Is Medicine™,” a program designed to encourage the medical community to advise patients on the importance of physical activity. Coca-Cola also funds for the ACSM Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company Doctoral Student Grant on Behavior Research.
The Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) and Coca-Cola are partnering to award up to $4000 plus free travel to a PCNA Annual Symposium to an individual for the creation, implementation, and/or evaluation of a new or existing healthy lifestyle program. Coca-Cola also sponsors nursing continuing education courses through the PCNA.
As for Partners HealthCare and Kaiser Permanente, I’ve never heard of or read anything that indicates they have accepted funding from Coca-Cola. If I’m wrong, please let me know. Perhaps Kaiser Permanente simply provides healthcare coverage for Coca-Cola workers and that’s how they found their way onto a partners list. If that’s the case, that’s a pretty scary thought that they’d be asked to spread Coca-Cola’s messages to their networks. I also have no information on how the Metropolitan Atlanta Cardiology Consultants PC interacts with Coca-Cola, if at all. Again, if someone has more information, please share it with all of us.
Coca-Cola works hard to build relationships with and fund medical and health organizations in order to buy their silence. The company is clearly not shy about asking “partners” to spread their messages in opposition to nutrition policies as evidenced by the email above. It’s time to put the heat on health and medical organizations that accept this kind of funding.
I can comprehend why an organization with a medical or health mission may partner with a company like Coca-cola. I have less comprehension why they accept funding but I allow for the possibility that some “greater good” was considered evident. When does a compromise become too compromised?
Soda companies get far more out of their partnerships with medical and health organizations than the other way around. What do they get? Positive public relations for their brands. Associating their brand with medical/health organizations which conveys an aura of “health.” The ability to silence criticism a medical or health organization might have of their products or marketing tactics. New customers. What do the medical and health organizations get? $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000 – pocket change compared to the value the soda company derives from the partnership. Very imbalanced.