February 16, 2010

USA: Should Coke Talk About Heart Health?

. NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / Health / February 16, 2010 By Tara Parker-Hope Soft drink makers increasingly are being accused of contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic. Now a consumer advocacy group is questioning whether Coca-Cola should be allowed to sponsor a national heart health campaign. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has issued a letter to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute asking the agency to end its partnership with Coca-Cola in a program that raises awareness of heart disease among women. Diet Coke is the most prominent sponsor of the Heart Truth campaign, which includes heart graphics on Diet Coke cans and appearances by the model Heidi Klum as the “Diet Coke heart health ambassador.” Heidi Klum. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Heart Truth In a statement, the center’s executive director, Michael Jacobson, compared Coke’s corporate sponsorship with allowing a cigarette maker to fund a government anti-smoking campaign. The fact that the campaign is sponsored by Diet Coke, rather than a sugar-laden soda brand, is irrelevant, he said. “Coca-Cola promotes heart disease by marketing drinks that contribute to obesity,” Mr. Jacobson wrote. “Coke has long sought to affiliate with or co-opt health groups and associate its brand with athletes and models. I fervently hope that N.H.L.B.I. officials understand that letting Coke bask in their agency’s good reputation does American hearts far more harm than good.” Coca-Cola defended its participation in the Heart Truth program, saying in a statement: We’ve used our communications and marketing expertise to reach millions of people with this important heart health message. We’ve made free heart health screenings available to thousands of people across the country. As a result of The Heart Truth campaign, awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among women has risen to nearly 70 percent compared to 34 percent in 2000 when the campaign was first introduced. And since Diet Coke has been involved, awareness of The Heart Truth and our support of it has nearly doubled. We are extraordinarily proud of the work we’ve done in partnership with N.H.L.B.I. and Heidi Klum to have a positive impact on the lives of our consumers. Mr. Jacobson also questioned why other food marketers, like the snack food company Snyder’s of Hanover and the Sara Lee Corporation, are co-sponsors of the campaign.[rc] Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company