Junk food producers funding healthy living campaigns

I have been a strong supporter of the private sector being involved with health programs for many years. Our group at Health Canada was involved in developing more than 300 public-private partnerships including ones for tobacco, alcohol and drugs, impaired driving, active living, healthy eating, diabetes prevention, healthy pregnancy, SIDS, children and seniors programs, injury prevention, West Nile virus, organ and tissue donation.  As I point out in an  article in Social Marketing Quarterly there needs to be some criteria and some common sense in engaging with the private sector, especially in the health field.

So I recently read about a partnership in Great Britain that made me wonder if the new British government have sold out to the private sector and has really hurt the credibility of private/public partnerships.

Food marketers in the U.K. are being asked to step up efforts to educate the public about healthy eating, after the new British government is cutting its $120 million Change4Life anti-obesity marketing campaign. In return the government will not impose new restrictions on food marketing.

The move is part of a wider plan for marketing cutbacks of up to 50% by the cash-strapped U.K. government, which is currently the biggest-spending advertiser in the U.K., ahead of Procter & Gamble.

Agencies are reeling from the dramatic budget cut, but marketers welcome the opportunity to take a bigger role in the debate, and are also relishing the government’s promise–in return for their help–not to increase regulation of food and drink marketing. The Conservative Party’s health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has ditched the three-year; $120 million budget set aside by his Labour predecessor and urged a “new approach to public health.”

“I will now be pressing [the commercial sector] to provide actual funding behind the campaign, and they need to do more,” he said. “If we are to reverse the trends in obesity, the commercial sector needs to change their business practices, including how they promote their brands and product reformulation.”

The Business4Life initiative brings together marketers including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Pepsi Co, Tesco, Cadbury and Unilever and claims on its website that the group will offer the equivalent of $300 million worth of expertise to encourage better diets and more exercise.

“Business is ready to play its part,” said the group’s leader, Ian Barber. “We welcome being seen as part of the solution rather than being constantly castigated as being part of the problem. We are more likely to get the right results if we have a positive role than if we are constantly having mud chucked at us.”

“We have to make Change4Life less a government campaign, more a social movement,” said Lansley. “Less paid for by government, more backed by business. Less about costly advertising, more about supporting family and individual responses.”

Marketers and media owners see Lansley’s decision as a reprieve from moves to instigate a pre-9 p.m. ban on TV advertising of food that is high in fat, salt and sugar, which would have threatened more than $400 million a year in advertising revenue, according to government regulator Ofcom. Source

The reaction has been quite critical:

In their latest attempt to stem the tide of British obesity, the national government is asking junk food producers to fund healthy living campaigns in return for a promise to not slap any taxes on fatty, sugary, salty, processed foods .And in keeping with this new style of governance, the Prime Minister will also be asking London’s crack and crystal meth dealers to fund the nation’s “Say No to Drugs” programs in return for repealing the nation’s drug laws. They may also looking into new funding arrangements with the tobacco industry, industrial polluters union #666 and NAMBLA.So, why would junk food producers want to fund successful anti-obesity / healthy living programs? Answer: they wouldn’t. But, they probably won’t mind spending a few million on ineffective programs if it means they can continue making billions selling crap food to the British public. Source

In the Daily Mail a very interesting piece by Sophie Borland and Nick McDermott

And for all those non-Brits out there, don’t think that your government wouldn’t sell you out just as quick. Major food firms will be asked to fund healthy living campaigns but controversially in return will not face a clampdown on fatty, sugary and salty meals, the health secretary said yesterday.

Manufacturers of some of Britain’s most well-known soft drinks, chocolates and snacks will be asked to pay for public advertising campaigns. And in exchange, Andrew Lansley will not pass any new laws on foods which are deemed to be unhealthy.

He told a conference for public health doctors he wanted to free food and drink firms from the ‘burden of regulation’  and would invite them to take on a greater role in public health.Mr Lansley said Government programmes cannot force people to make healthy choices, adding that individuals must take more responsibility for their choices.

‘It’s not about good food or bad food because that way, you just close companies out. It’s actually about a good diet or bad diet, good exercise or lack of exercise, it’s about people having a responsibility,’ he said.

He added it’s ‘perfectly possible to eat a bag of crisps, to eat a Mars bar, to drink a carbonated soft drink’ as long as it is in moderation.

But health campaigners immediately condemned the Government’s decision to go cap in hand to companies such as Cadbury, Mars and Coca-Cola in a bid to motivate people to follow better diets and take more exercise.

Tam Fry, board member of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘It sees them as nothing other than a bare-faced request for cash from a rich food and drink industry to bail out a cash-starved Department of Health campaign.

‘The quid pro quo is that the department gives industry an assurance that there will be no regulation or legislation over its activities. Source

Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We wait with bated breath for the fast food merchants, chocolate bar makers and fizzy drink vendors to beat a path to the public health door. ‘Meanwhile, parents and children continue to be faced with the bewildering kaleidoscope of confusing food labels and pre-watershed junk food adverts.’ Source


In an article Children are Obese due to Overfeeding Not Lack of Exercise Scientists found that lack of exercise is not to blame for increased levels of childhood obesity. A new report suggests that physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness, not its cause. Researchers now believe that overfeeding by parents and children eating more junk food is the root cause of weight gain. The report also said targeting nutrition rather than exercise was the best way to help obese children lose weight Source

Over at ParticipACTION the national voice of physical activity and sport participation in Canada. We find that Coca-Cola Canada has pledged $5 million to support Sogo Active , a national program that challenges Canadian youth aged 13-19 to get active and overcome the physical inactivity crisis. Source. Also check out

Here is the latest press release from Participaction and Coca Cola.

August 12, 2010   |   By Kristin Laird

Coca-Cola Canada and ParticipAction are challenging Canadian youth to get physical and motivate others with the latest phase of its Sogo Active national physical activity program.This year’s initiative includes the “Can You Fill These Shoes?” contest. Teens can register online at SogoActive.com to create their own challenges and encourage friends to join.The 90 teens with the most recruits will receive a prize and the chance to become a Sogo Active Ambassador, for which they’ll receive $5,000 to put towards their education, a $500 grant to support physical activity in their community, Adidas gear, and a Sport Chek gift card.The goal is to have teens increase their physical activity levels by joining national or local challenges or by creating their own and involving their friends, explained Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipAction.”Sogo Active is encouraging and supporting youth to inspire each other to take responsibility for their own health and find new reasons and new opportunities to be active,” she said.Since launching two years ago, nearly 13,000 youth and 1,300 host communities have joined Sogo Active. As part of the program, Coca-Cola invited 1,000 members to carry the Olympic torch earlier this year.

“The first phase was to marry together the strengths of the respective organizations, and to market physical activity to make it look cool to the teen demographic,” said Amy Laski, spokesperson, Coca-Cola Canada.”We’re not experts in physical activity, but we’ve brought our marketing expertise to help the program,” she said.Some may consider the partnership an odd match considering some Coke products are loaded with sugar. But ParticipAction’s Murumets says Coca-Cola is “an absolutely amazing partner.””They’re aware of the image they have and have been responsible in the way we’ve set up Sogo,” she said. “Whenever we have an event we always serve the healthiest Coca-Cola product… And  [The partnership] is with the company and not a particular brand.

Concerned Children’s Advertisers (CCA), whose activities include nationally televised Public Service Announcements and curricula for children in kindergarten to grade eight, as well as tips and tools for parents and community workers has a campaign  in the area of healthy living and healthy eating . Their messages include the importance of balancing food and activity and encouraging kids to “eat smart and move more. “To extend the campaign they also develop and produce comprehensive educational programs for children in kindergarten to grade eight. Long Live Kids teaches kids to “eat smart, move more and be media wise,” to create a healthy, balanced lifestyle.But when you look at their partners  you find MacDonalds, Hershey’s, Nestles and Pepsi Co,

White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity to the President. The report included recommendations in a few key areas:

  1. Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler, more actionable messages about nutritional choices based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans; improved labels on food and menus that provide clear information to help make healthy choices for children; reduced marketing of unhealthy products to children; and improved health care services, including BMI measurement for all children.
  2. Providing healthy food in schools.
  3. Improving access to healthy, affordable food, by eliminating “food deserts”.
  4. Getting children more physically active.

The report also reports that in 2006, $1,600,000,000.00 were spent on food ads aimed at youngsters. The majority of products were unhealthy. In response, the Council of Better Business Bureaus established the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative , a self-regulatory industry body. By 2009, 3 years later, no substantial changes in marketing to kids were noticed. Read: miserable failure.

InOut of Balance,” , Consumers Union and CPEHN looked at data from Advertising Age to analyze the amount of money spent on the unending barrage of food brand advertising. The groups found that food, beverage, candy and restaurant advertising hit $11.26 billion in 2004, compared to a mere $9.55 million to advertise the Five a Day campaign, which promotes eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The ad budget for the top-spending fast food restaurants alone came in at $2.3 billion, roughly 240 times greater than the communications budget for the 5 A Day campaigns combined. The advertising budget for Snickers, a single brand of candy, is nearly eight times greater than the advertising budget for the entire 5 A Day California and federal programs.

Michelle Obama’s childhood anti-obesity campaign got a big boost when a coalition of major food manufacturers, including Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Kraft Foods and Pepsi Co vowed to introduce healthier food options, and cut down calories in existing products.

Some believe that the hidden motive here is to convince government to back off and not regulate the industry,” said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. ” Source

To summarize I strongly support partnerships between government Non Profit agencies and the private sector, but there has to be limits to these partnerships and frankly a little bit of common-sense, having producers of candies, chocolate and soda pop is not an ideal partner for those involved in the Obesity battle especially when their ultimate objective is not to be regulated by government.

I would love to hear what you think.


Postscript June 22 2012


ParticipACTION partnership with Coke draws critics

Sogo Active Youth Ambassadors are shown getting active at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, June 28, 2011. (MARKETWIRE PHOTO / Coca-Cola Canada)
Sogo Active Youth Ambassadors are shown getting active at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, June 28, 2011. (MARKETWIRE PHOTO / Coca-Cola Canada)

Sogo Active Youth Ambassadors are shown getting active at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

One of Canada’s most famous fitness enthusiasts is speaking out against a partnership between ParticipACTION—the national non-profit organization that promotes healthy living and physical activity—and Coca-Cola.

The two partnered to create SOGO Active, a national physical activity program designed for youth.The campaign asks young Canadians to pledge to complete a challenge involving physical activity online, and complete the challenge.

Hal Johnson, longtime host of ParticipACTION’s Body Break public service announcements, criticized the partnership in a tweet on Friday.Reports indicate the deal between ParticipACTION and the world’s most popular soft drink manufacturer is worth $5 million over five years.

“I am disappointed that ParticipACTION has partnered with Coke, it doesn’t fit no matter how much money they are getting,” read the tweet.And Johnson is not the only person critical of the pairing. Ottawa University professor and obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff sounded off on the partnership on his blog, Weighty Matters.

Freedhoff slammed the way Coca-Cola was described by ParticipACTION President Kelly Murumet.In the past, Murumet has called Coca-Cola “a responsible, effective partner.”

In the end, the partnership between the two will not improve the health of Canada’s youth, wrote Freedhoff.

Health Canada estimates that in the last 25 years, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled. Studies have shown a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity.

To help children maintain a healthy body weight, the Canada Food Guide recommends limiting the amount of sweetened drinks consumed by children.

Read more: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20120622/participaction-partnership-with-coke-draws-critics-120622/#commentSection#ixzz1yYZPcCj5

3 Replies to “Junk food producers funding healthy living campaigns”

  1. I’m also working in the Social Health Marketing here in my country, and let me tell you, is the most awesome thing, literaly, I’ve ever do. SO I salute you collage.

    Well, I think for my personal point of view, the problem is not in the product itself, it’s in the behavior of the persons.

    Education in health issues.

    The final choice of buying a product is the final consumer, we can start making small packages, good-will campaigns, etc.. but if we don’t take seriously that education for the consumer about healthy and not healthy products is the panacea for a social change, well… the problem of Obesity will be still be there.

    A very grand social effort to gave the knowledge of what is healthy, of what is not so healthy but you can eat in a small portion; with the correct behaviour we need to the people to adapt, reject,modify or abandon, we can make a change.

    😀 great article!

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