Tag Archives: YMCA

Partnerships between Food Industry and Health Groups

The other day I learned that in 1984, Kellogg arranged with the National Cancer Institute to endorse a health claim for All-Bran cereal. Within 6 months, All-Bran’s market share increased by 47% (Nestle & Ludwig, 2010). Prior to 1984, there had been no endorsement of health claims on behalf of health groups. Ever since, the use of health claims on products has proliferated (in part) because it sells.  Today, partnerships between food industry and health groups have grown in number and scale. Not only do we see the visible affects (health claims on food labels, sponsorships at sporting events, etc.) but we also see the food industry’s impact on the conduct of research and thus, public health policy.

This got me thinking: given today’s obesity epidemic, how responsible are partnerships between food industry groups and health groups? Through reading and conducting online research I found these partnerships to be irresponsible. Specifically, I found these financial ties compromise the public credibility of health organizations and groups (Nestle, Ludwig, 2008).

The first partnership I examined was between PepsiCo and the YMCA. In the article Can the Food Industry Play a constructive Role in the Obesity Epidemic? Nestle and Ludwig describe how PepsiCo donated $11.6 million over 5 years to the YMCA to support an annual community day “to celebrate healthy living, encourage kids and families to get excited about physical fun and activity and .. engage kids in play to be healthy.” Nestle and Ludwig (2010) point out that focus on physical activity, characteristically without consummate attention to diet quality, appears disingenuous. In an article titled YMCA received PepsiCo Grant Mica Wilson from Healthier Lifestyles Marketing, PepsiCo was quoted saying “PepsiCo and the YMCA have a shared commitment to find better ways to help Americans lead healthier lifestyles.” If PepsiCo were truly committed to “helping Americans lead healthier lifestyles”, don’t you think they would consider making their actual product healthier?

An even more alarming situation is revealed when we consider the influence the food industry has on the conduct of research and the development of public health policy. In a study titled Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles, researchers reviewed 206 scientific articles published over a 5-year period, all of which addressed the health effects of milk, fruit juices, and soft drinks. They found that the likelihood of a conclusion favorable to the industry was 4-fold to 8-fold higher if the study received full rather than no industry funding, raising the possibility of systematic bias (Nestle and Ludwig, 2008).

Both of the above partnerships have serious implications for public health. They are irresponsible when considering addressing the obesity epedemic for they undermine the credibility of health groups and organizations and their ability to seriously address public health concerns. It is vital that we not leave it up to the food industry, whose main purpose is to create a profit, to address public health issues. As Nestle and Ludwig point out, “appropriate checks and balances are needed to align the financial interests of the food industry with the goals of the public health”. As consumers, we must vote with our fork and think critically as to whether or not we want to support or buy into the health claims on labels and other types of partnerships between industry and health groups. If we sense something isn’t right, it’s important to raise attention to the issue, talk about it with friends and family and demand strong public health policies from our elected officials.

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