A new study out of George Washington University led by associate professor of sociology Dr. Ivy Ken concludes that “efforts to combat obesity can be a threat to businesses that produce and sell food: If people eat less, profits will decline. But the food industry can’t appear to be non-responsive to what some have called a public health crisis, and it employs several tactics to maintain legitimacy and position itself as “part of the solution” while also protecting profits.”
Dr. Ken studied food companies affiliated with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Partnership for a Healthier America, examining their “commitments” (a self-congratulatory buzzword industry loves), speeches, websites, annual meetings and other public materials the companies and their partners distribute.
Her conclusion? “I found that these organizations might more appropriately be called the ‘Partnership for a Healthier Bottom Line.”
She also adds:
“These are the activities behind the grand pronouncements made by the Alliance and the Partnership that they are ‘working together’ with the public, ‘partnering,’ and ‘collaborating’ to solve the problem of obesity ‘together.’ This message is often delivered by prominent public figures such as former President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker, and it is carefully crafted to deflect attention away from how these token gestures are meant to keep junk food peddlers in the public’s good graces.”
We think it is particularly important to point out how industry is very calculated when it comes to who delivers public kudos to its “commitments.” When Bill Clinton or First Lady Michelle Obama go on record and pat the likes of Coca-Cola or Kellogg’s on the back, it’s common to see even some public health advocates take a step back from delivering much-needed criticism.
Dr. Ken also makes this important point:
“[Industry has] received a great deal of attention and praise for their efforts, which helps them avoid regulation and public disapproval,” Dr. Ken said. “But great problems have been created by companies’ efforts to increase their profits at the expense of the public’s health. Those who are interested in fighting these problems and combating obesity should not be lulled into ‘working with’ these companies, but rather, against and around them.”
Precisely. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics continues to operate from the “working with industry” model. We are glad to see this model criticized for what it is — a highly ineffective process that keeps health organizations hostage to industry’s whims and clout. As we have asked on this page numerous times, we are interested in hearing how “working with Coca-Cola” has in any way, shape, or form helped to improve public health.