February is “heart health month” — an occasion Coca-Cola has attached its name to, and sponsored, for years via its Heart Truth campaign.
To make matters worse, this blatant co-optation of health by a soda giant has long received the blessing of some health professionals — including registered dietitians.
Page 17 of this document, for instance, shows former Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics president Sylvia Escott-Stump looking absolutely thrilled to be at a Coca-Cola “heart health month” red carpet event.
In this post, the Public Health Advocacy Institute masterfully pulls back the curtain on Coca-Cola’s shameful co-optation of heart-health month and exposes the complex political web of money and influence it has weaved.
- “For years, the month of February has been the kick-off of the Coca-Cola Company’s sponsorship of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Heart Truth campaign. Heart Truth began in 2002, with the goal of raising awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of women.”
- “As a federal agency, NHLBI is subject to legal limits on its use of funds and the Department of Health and Human Services’ ethical guidelines for co-sponsorship of events. These guidelines are meant to guard against conflicts of interest that would undermine the primary mission of NHLBI. Coke’s corporate funding disclosures in the Fall of 2015 indicate that as public pressure on NHLBI built, Coke shifted the bulk of its heart health giving to a tight circle of non-governmental heart health organizations consisting of the American College of Cardiology, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.”
- “From 2008 to 2014, The Coca-Cola Company, under its Diet Coke brand, was the Heart Truth campaign’s most visible co-sponsor: Despite the fact that HHS’s ethical guidelines place a particular emphasis on avoiding the appearance of product endorsement, Heart Truth logos were printed on billions of Diet Coke cans, heart health-themed Diet Coke ads ran during the Olympic Games, Coke enlisted high-profile celebrities like Heidi Klum to appear at Heart Truth events, and Diet Coke beverages were distributed at community heart health screenings.”
- “Through its contracts with NHLBI for the 2010 Heart Truth Fashion Show, Coke was granted:
- Full use of the NHLBI Heart Truth logo in any Coke marketing, advertising and or promotional materials or activities;
- Assistance from NHLBI’s agent, Ogilvy, in the “development of heart health content and messages” for its use;
- Access to heart health experts and spokespeople to serve on Coca-Cola’s behalf including at Coca-Cola luncheons, ambassador program, opinion shaper and other customer/VIP events;
- Pre-approval of “all [NHLBI] creative materials, press releases, collateral materials, signage and other items using” Coca-Cola’s trademarks.”
- Coke’s Heart Truth partnership with NHLBI was created under the leadership of then NHLBI Director Elizabeth (Betsy) Nabel, MD. Dr. Nabel is a cardiologist who left public service in 2010 to become President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, MA. Dr. Nabel traveled to Canada to be an official 2010 Olympic Games Torchbearer for Coke and spoke glowingly about her relationship with Coke.”
- “It turned out that Dr. Nabel was not the only Coke heart health partner at BWH. She was joined by Dr. JoAnne Foody, MD, the Medical Director of BWH’s Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center. Dr. Foody is featured as a heart health expert in continuing education presentations produced by Coca-Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health, and in 2011 was selected to serve as the Editor-In-Chief of the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) CardioSmart initiative. ACC received $2.6 million in Coke funding for CardioSmart and community screenings between 2010 and 2015. CardioSmart is described as “a patient education site committed to providing accurate, un-biased heart health information in an advertising-free environment.”