Co-optation of public health messaging is one valid concern that arises when industry gets involved with campaigns to educate the public on the harmful effects of certain foods and beverages.
This commentary by Center for Science in the Public Interest board members City Ruiz details how industry uses its influence to fight public health.
- “I’ll tell you what the problem is: Big Soda. I saw it firsthand while working on the very awareness campaign that is conspicuously absent from our community. Big Soda wields big influence. And after you peek behind the curtain, you’ll be surprised who is calling some of the shots in San Antonio’s public health communications.”
- “Last year, before Mayor Julián Castro left for Washington, D.C., City Council gave San Antonio’s director of the Metropolitan Health District, Dr. Thomas Schlenker, the go-ahead for a public education campaign to reduce sugary drink consumption. Public health advocates rallied to the cause.”
- “After meetings with the beverage industry, the City Manager’s office required that our workgroup include a representative from Big Soda itself. I was taken aback. Having worked on similar campaigns in California, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., I had never witnessed the participation of the very industry whose products we were trying to dissuade people from consuming.”
- “Coca-Cola Company Director of Public Affairs and Communications Luisa Casso, at times joined by representatives from the Texas Beverage Association, repeatedly took issue with any brand names, messages, or imagery that they perceived as “negative.”
- “Big Soda would only support a campaign without any teeth, without any of the eye-opening, motivating facts about how sugary drinks affect our health. And the public health advocates in the workgroup, myself included, refused to let an evidence-based behavior change campaign be watered down. As a result, the workgroup was disbanded and the campaign fizzled out.”
- “In the end, Big Soda achieved exactly what it wanted: no campaign at all – at least for the moment.”
This is why “sitting at the table” with industry is a waste of time for anyone in the nutrition and public health realms. Too often, sitting at the table turns into industry dominating the conversation and worrying about its reputation above all else.