Government Health Agency Urged to Drop Coca-Cola as Heart-Health Partner

Like Allowing Philip Morris to Sponsor Anti-Smoking Campaign, Says CSPI


WASHINGTON—The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute should not partner with Coca-Cola to raise awareness of heart disease among women, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In a letter to the NHLBI, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest says overweight and obesity are prime risk factors for heart disease, and the agency shouldn't be bolstering the dismal reputation of the Coca-Cola Company, the world’s biggest manufacturer of obesigenic soft drinks.

"It is as inappropriate as it would be to allow Philip Morris to sponsor NHLBI's anti-smoking efforts," wrote CSPI's executive director Michael F. Jacobson and nutrition policy advocate George A. Hacker, in a letter to NHLBI director Susan B. Shurin.

On the NHLBI web site, Diet Coke is listed first and most prominently among several pages of corporate sponsors for The Heart Truth campaign. Supermodel Heidi Klum is described on the government web site as the "Diet Coke heart health ambassador."

"Though Diet Coke is the ostensible sponsor, it is the entire Coca-Cola product line that is basking in the credibility conferred by a government heart-health agency and a slender supermodel, when in fact Coca-Cola promotes heart disease by marketing drinks that contribute to obesity," Jacobson said. "Coke has long sought to affiliate with or co-opt health groups, and associate its brand with athletes and models. I fervently hope that NHLBI officials understand that letting Coke bask in their agency’s good reputation does American hearts far more harm than good."

Last week, President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing a number of cabinet agencies, including NHLBI's parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, to develop a coordinated strategy to solve the childhood obesity problem within one generation. The order pointedly notes that heart disease is one of several obesity-related health problems.

In addition to Coke, the NHLBI Heart Truth Web site publicizes two other corporate sponsors: Snyder's of Hanover, which CSPI describes in its letter as "a major producer of snack foods made largely of white flour and salt," and Sara Lee, which "is famous for its artery-clogging cheesecakes, salty Ball Park hot dogs, and Jimmy Dean sausages."

Those foods, like Coke and other soft drinks sugary, are exactly the kinds of foods that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises people to eat less of, according to CSPI.

"Promoting the corporate image of Coca-Cola Co. and other junk-food makers undermines the advice in the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and is contrary to the spirit of the executive order signed by the President just last week," Jacobson said.

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