Can’t we all just get along?


November 9, 2012 by locklearcr

In a perfect world, we could all be friends, hold hands around a campfire, and joke lightly about our disagreements. Unfortunately, that is not the reality in the contrasting worlds of public health and private sector companies.

Now I wouldn’t go off and say that it is totally naive to think that we couldn’t work together (successfully) on some level and in certain situations, I’d say it’s just very optimistic. The relationship between public health efforts and the agenda of the private sector kind of follows those old cliches allude to hypocrisy; “practice what you preach” and the like.

As seen on the “Food Industry- Friend or Foe?” debate, the main responsibility of the business to make a profit. The end. What about public health? Typically, their goals do not  involve making money- their focus is on quite literally the health of the public. It is not hard to see how joining forces might not be successful for either party.

As the article “Public health sector and food industry…” suggests, we have to change what it means to have a ‘partnership’ with each other, and we must be clear in our goals and expectations. We may think we have a cohesive partnership, but the underlying intents do not match up and the only connection seems to be marketing and money.

A tremendous example of a public/private “partnership” is that the Academy is sponsored by huge companies such as Coca-cola, Pepsico, Hershey’s, and Kellogg’s just to name a few. How the heck can we send a meaningful, powerful message about eating healthier, choosing more whole foods, avoiding processed/fast foods, etc. when the very people who support us monetarily sit on the opposite end of the spectrum? Ay, there’s the rub.

In order to work together, we’d have to share a goal, and I’m not sure if that doesn’t seem very feasible at this point. Calorie-dense foods are what rake in the dough, due to ingenious manipulation of mouthfeel, and sugar/fat/salt ratios. What motivation do these companies have to change their methods? Can we tell them, “change your product and make less money, because it’s the right thing to do”?

In the food industry’s defense, they are slowly shifting toward offering healthier products. At FNCE, big name companies were shifting to low/zero-calorie beverages more than ever before, and others had changed their original products making them lower in calories/fat/sugar. It’s a start- a baby step. They’re trying, but maybe it’s too little too late.

Also, with the never ending bombardment of brands, labels, and advertisement working with health endeavors, there’s still a huge gap.Where’s the fresh produce? Where’s the cooking at home, with your family?  If Pizza Hut and KFC are backing these ‘health check’, ‘heart smart’ efforts, what are we telling people? We’re lacking the most important messages because we’re selling out.



2 thoughts on “Can’t we all just get along?

  1. waboyd says:

    You make many good points about the dangers of partnerships in public health. I do understand that many professional societies need money to function and that they constantly struggle to increase the numbers of memberships and attendees at annual meetings. As the economy has faltered, I’m sure this becomes even more of a challenge as businesses and individuals cut back on travel to save money. But, I also share your skepticism about sponsorship of the Academy by food and beverage giants, and whether this money might act to sway the position of the Academy on important public health messages. I would like to think not, but conflict of interest looms heavy on my mind. Marion Nestle, the author of Food Politics, has pointed out in a talk titled Thought for Food that the obesity epidemic has escalated as the influence of the food industry has grown.
    I have also thought a lot about the dangers of ‘health’ labeling. I remember before Weight Watchers made improvements to their points system in 2010. Among other changes, Weight Watchers changed the scoring of most fruits and vegetables to zero points so participants eat these food items at no cost. A friend of mine had tried a number of different diet programs and was relieved when Weight Watchers made this announcement, because she had been avoiding any foods that did not have a nutrition label to avoid making a bad food choice. After talking to others, I realized that many dieting women shared this fear. I was astounded that these people were avoiding unprocessed meats and produce because they did not have nutrition facts labels. So, yes, I do worry that if restaurants and food manufacturers start putting check marks on their products that many consumers will trust these highly processed food to be healthier than fresh, whole foods prepared at home. And maybe even more worrisome is who will be deciding the criteria for what makes a food healthy or not?

  2. afrazzini says:

    Hey, since you brought up this issue of sponsorships earlier, I thought you might appreciate seeing the recent report that Michele Simon came out with…it presents some pretty damning evidence of the Academy’s ties to industry, and financial information that seems to indicate that AND doesn’t even need corporate sponsorships, anyway! Although at the end she does say that there have been some positive changes in the past two years. Here’s the report:
    and here’s some news coverage of it:

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