As a result of this week’s controversy with Coca-Cola and the Global Energy Balance Network, obesity researcher Dr. Travis Saunders explains why his favorable views on partnerships between health organizations and the food and beverage industry are starting to shift.
Some highlights from his recent post (which is an updated version of a post he wrote in 2012):
- “I felt it was possible that the positive aspects of engagement (primarily in the form of money for research or other programs that might not be possible otherwise) outweighed their potential to do harm.However, over the past few years I’ve gradually been pulled toward the [opposing view] for two reasons: Big Food seems willing to say or do just about anything to promote their own interests, and funding public health projects (including research) probably helps Big Food avoid meaningful regulation.”
- “Coca-Cola President for North America Katie Bayne once said in an interview that ‘There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.’ Note that she didn’t say that the research isn’t air-tight, or that some questions remain, which would be true. She said there is “no scientific evidence”, which can be easily disproved.”
- “If all public health advocates were to stop partnering with Big Food, this would create a pretty large vacuum in terms of funding (unfortunately, those corporate social responsibility campaigns fund a lot of worthwhile projects… which, as I’ve written previously, is the whole point). This has always been a big concern for me, and I still don’t know how that vacuum could be filled (this is far from inconsequential – if we had another way to fill that vacuum, there would be far less need to partner with Big Food in the first place). This is not an abstract concern – I have not personally received funding from the food industry, although I have worked with several individuals and organizations that have, and have therefore indirectly benefited from these partnerships myself. However, if the goal is to improve public health, then I’m starting to think that the ends may not justify the means.”
It certainly appears to be getting to the point where partnerships with industry are becoming more difficult to defend.
Now would be an excellent time for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to take on a leadership role and drop its problematic corporate partnerships. However, the deafening silence on this controversy on behalf of AND appears to show that it plans on continuing to defend the indefensible, or at least not rock the boat in order to not offend one of its main sponsors. Disappointing.