By William Heisel for Reporting on Health
It's one of the oldest parenting mantras: Do as I say, not as I do.
For journalists interested in taking up Antidote's challenge to explore local ties between soft drink makers (and other companies) and schools, parks and youth sports, the Prevention Institute has been putting together a compelling collection of say/do contrasts that are nice models for how to approach the question of the food industry's role in childhood obesity. As I noted last week, Coca-Cola makes the bold claim that it does not market to kids younger than 12.
The Prevention Institute's campaign highlights what it sees as deceptive practices of food and beverage companies. Companies say they are putting less sugar and salt into foods, providing healthy eating options and, as Coca-Cola claims, targeting their marketing at people old enough to make informed food choices.
The Institute summed up the campaign in a We're Not Buying It video. In a Today Show segment excerpted for the video, Al Roker looks at a cereal box with a healthy sounding name and says, "It says ‘Berry Berry', but it's not very very loaded with fruit.'" Roker was responding to the Institute's study, Where's the Fruit?, which looked at heavily marketed children's foods that promised fruit on the packaging and found that more than half contained no fruit.
In example after example, the Institute dismantles the public claims made by food companies. The site says:
Pepsi and Coke say they are removing sugar drinks from schools and giving parents better information... So why are they suing health departments trying to give families more information about sodas? The American Beverage Industry (ABA) has begun a series of legal attacks against several health departments over efforts to educate communities about limiting consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages: Exclusive: Soda makers escalate attacks over obesity.
As for companies sponsoring parks, schools and sports teams, the Institute is skeptical.
"There is a very strategic reason beverage companies choose these kind of sponsorships," Ann Whidden, Prevention Institute's communications manager, told me. "In their effort to skirt responsibility for soda's significant contributions to unhealthy eating, they'd rather blame individuals for not being physically active enough."
Who exactly is the Prevention Institute? It's a pretty impressive group. Its Executive Advisory Board includes the likes of Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, Kim Belshé, former California Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the professor behind Designing Healthy Communities, Dr. Richard Jackson.