The Health Equity Blog’s mission is to contribute to the discussion of health policy using evidence and research, to explore the opportunities for health equity through policy change, to raise awareness about health disparities, and to increase public advocacy for health equality.

According to the CDC, “Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.’”

Achievement of full health potential is necessary in all aspects of life – from running errands to relationships with loved ones. Some people are born into environments that limit their ability to achieve their full health potential. We believe that because society created many health inequalities, society can also fix them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Corporate sponsorship and improving health

Corporate giving
Although regular consumption of junk food like soda, candy, and fast food is known to be bad for health, many companies associated with selling ‘junk food’ donate to non-profits and sponsor initiatives to improve communities. For example, earlier this week, Michelle Obama announced the ‘Drink Up’ campaign to encourage Americans to drink more water. Many of the companies that are sponsoring this effort are companies that produce bottled water. It turns out that many bottled water companies are owned by the same companies that produce soda, suggesting a conflict of interest. However, major health improvement campaigns are few and far between. Are public health campaigns like ‘Drink Up’ helpful or harmful? 

Examples of corporate giving to improve health
Michelle Obama’s Drink Up effort is just one example of this phenomenon. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola unleashed an anti-obesity campaign (You can Watch the commercial here).  Coca-Cola a main soda producer is now committed to “create awareness around choice and movement, to help people make the most informed decisions for themselves and their families.”  As found on the website, Coca-Cola supports over 280 physical activity or nutrition education programs. Coca-Cola sponsored 10 boot camps around the United States.
Another example is McDonald’s hosting nutrition events. In May 2012, McDonald’s hosted an event at Union Terrace Elementary School in Pennsylvania called ‘What We’re Made Of’ and made a $1,000 donation to benefit fitness and nutrition education. From the press release “The objective is to empower families with information they can use to make healthy food choices and to arm parents with information about McDonald’s commitment to the well-being of kids. A ‘farm table’ display will serve as the centerpiece of discussion and showcase some of the fresh ingredients found in McDonald’s food.” However, it is well documented that a diet high in fast food is harmful.  Studies have found that a child that eats fast-food consumed more fats, sugars, calories and carbohydrates and fewer fruits and non-starchy vegetables compared to kids who didn't eat fast food. Studies have also been done that link obesity to familiarity with fast-food advertising. Is nutrition education with Ronald McDonald or the McDonald’s logo like one big advertisement?
Why ‘junk food’ companies should sponsor health initiatives
1.     To improve health  -  Americans, as a whole, have poor health. We eat too much and don’t move enough. Free events and education to the public opens a discussion on how to improve overall well-being. People from low-income neighborhoods have less access to opportunities to improve health and tend to have worse overall health outcomes. Opportunities to improve health are necessary to achieve health equity.

2.     To supplement funding from cash strapped entities  -  Governments, schools, and non-profits have tight budgets. In some cases mandates from policies are largely unfunded and in order to meet the law, entities have to create partnerships. For example, a school district that must, by law, provide physical education but does not have money in the budget for curriculum development or staffing needs donations from somewhere.
Why ‘junk food’ companies should NOT sponsor health initiatives
1.     Advertising opportunities disguised as good  -  Logos are powerful tools. Most Americans cannot possibly look at a 5K-race bib with the Dairy Queen logo and not think of blizzards. Recently researchers have found just a 30-second exposure to a product changes a person’s preferences for a brand. In the time it takes to run a 5 K there are a lot of 30-second exposures.   

2.     Inconsistent messaging  -  Seventy McDonald’s restaurants throughout Arizona hosted back-to-school health and safety fairs to provide health screenings and information on health insurance. Many of these events actually took place at McDonalds. Based on the USDA’s My Plate nutrition guidelines fast food is considered a food to be consumed in moderation. It is confusing for children to bring them to a fast food restaurant to learn about health. Not to mention the free advertising McDonalds gains by putting a backpack on thousands of children.

In the end, is it okay for ‘junk food’ companies to sponsor health related events?
There are important health policy and equity concerns to consider when answering that question. First, we know that people in low-income neighborhoods lack health opportunities and discretionary income to seek these opportunities. There is a need for physical activity activities. Free, community based fitness events warm my heart and I like that families are educated about food choices. Second, the health disparities between richer and poorer neighborhoods are real. Third, companies have the extra money that governments, schools, and non-profits lack. A $1,000 donation is beneficial for students. But there is a major ‘yuck’ factor. My gut reaction is that companies know that there is an opportunity for free advertising through sponsorship and the power of that advertising on their bottom line. So what if companies do only sponsor health related initiatives to bring in the money. Would it be fair to deprive people of the opportunities if such sponsorship wasn’t allowed? Do public health campaigns, like Michelle Obama’s, need corporate sponsors? Personally, I am torn. I am curious what others think about this issue. Please comment below.

1 comment:

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