Friend to Dietitians For Professional Integrity Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University (one of the authors of Monday’s study on soda sponsorship of health organizations) has published a hard-hitting post on soda companies following Big Tobacco’s playbook by paying dietitians to promote soda consumption and oppose soda taxes.
- “Earlier this week, Dan Aaron and I published an article revealing that the major soda companies – Coca-Cola and PepsiCo – are using corporate sponsorship of medical and health organizations as a strategy to improve their public image and head off potential negative publicity and public policies that might reduce soda consumption. Our article focused on the sponsorship of organizations. Today, I discuss the fact that the soda companies are also paying individuals in an attempt to improve their public image and divert attention away from the role that their products play in the obesity epidemic.”
- “This is right out of the Big Tobacco playbook. For many years, the tobacco companies paid a group of researchers to write articles downplaying the health effects of smoking and opposing public policies that would reduce tobacco consumption.”
- “The goal of this effort was to make it appear that these were independent, objective scientists who had come to the unbiased conclusion that smoking was not particularly harmful. The truth was that these scientists were on the tobacco payroll, their opinions were heavily biased, and these severe conflicts of interest were often hidden from the public.”
- “There is a network of dietitians who are essentially being paid off to express opinions in which they downplay the role of the soda industry in the obesity epidemic, question the link between soda consumption and weight gain, and oppose public health policies that would reduce obesity by lowering soda consumption.”
- “All of these dietitians are also consulting for the American Beverage Association, which we showed in our paper is an industry-funded group that vigorously lobbies against virtually all national, state, and local public health policies supported by the health community to address the obesity problem.”
- “While I was surprised by many of our findings on soda company sponsorship, I am frankly shocked to see that a group of dietitians would allow themselves to be used by the soda industry as hacks like this. In my opinion, this defiles the profession of dietetics.”
- “I am not really blaming the soda companies for pursuing these sponsorships and these consulting arrangements. It is actually a brilliant strategy. It worked for Big Tobacco and it is working wonders for the soda companies. But Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are not in the business of public health. Their job is to sell soda, and these sponsorships and consulting arrangements help them to do that.
- “It’s time for everyone in the public health community – both organizations and individuals – to stop enabling the soda companies to use them as pawns in their grand marketing strategy by rejecting soda company funding.”