Soda companies' PR campaigns are bad for health: experts

Health advocates need to organize strong public health campaigns to educate the public and policymakers about the dangers of both sugary beverages and the misleading industry corporate social responsibility campaigns that distract from their products' health risks, according to US experts writing in this week's PLoS Medicine.

In a Policy Forum article, the authors (media and public health experts from the Berkeley and Boston, USA) examined prominent campaigns from industry leaders PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, that, according to the authors, have embraced (CSR) with elaborate, expensive, and multinational campaigns.

The authors say that while soda companies may not face the level of social stigmatization or regulatory pressure that now confronts Big Tobacco, concern over soda and the is growing. In response to health concerns about their products, the authors argue that soda companies have launched comprehensive CSR initiatives sooner than did but that these campaigns echo the tobacco industry's use of CSR as a means to focus responsibility on consumers rather than the corporation, bolster the companies' and products' popularity, and to prevent regulation.

However, unlike tobacco CSR campaigns, soda company CSR campaigns explicitly target young people and aim to increase sales.

The authors say: "It is clear that the soda CSR campaigns reinforce the idea that obesity is caused by customers' "bad" behavior, diverting attention from soda's contribution to rising ."

They continue: "For example, CSR campaigns that include the construction and upgrading of parks for youth who are at risk for diet-related illnesses keep the focus on physical activity, rather than on unhealthful foods and drinks. Such tactics redirect the responsibility for health outcomes from corporations onto its consumers, and externalize the negative effects of increased obesity to the public."

The authors argue: "Emerging science on the addictiveness of sugar, especially when combined with the known addictive properties of caffeine found in many sugary beverages, should further heighten awareness of the product's public health threat similar to the understanding about the addictiveness of tobacco products."

They conclude: "Public health advocates must continue to monitor the CSR activities of soda companies, and remind the public and policymakers that, similar to Big Tobacco, soda industry CSR aims to position the companies, and their products, as socially acceptable rather than contributing to a social ill."

More information: Dorfman L, Cheyne A, Friedman LC, Wadud A, Gottlieb M (2012) Soda and Tobacco Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Campaigns: How Do They Compare? PLoS Med 9(6): e1001241. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001241

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cigarette firms slowing anti-tobacco fight: report

Mar 20, 2012

Alleged "interference" by cigarette firms in public health policies is slowing down a UN-backed global campaign against tobacco use and its related health risks, a report said Tuesday.

When will a message of social responsibility backfire?

Jul 14, 2011

Consumers don't react positively to all messages of corporate social responsibility, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The message needs to line up with consumers' mindsets and understanding of the ...

Anti-tobacco TV ads help adults stop smoking, study finds

Apr 19, 2012

Anti-tobacco television advertising helps reduce adult smoking, according to a study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Health Research and Policy -- but some ads may be more effective ...

Recommended for you

The hunt for botanicals

22 hours ago

Herbal medicine can be a double-edged sword and should be more rigorously investigated for both its beneficial and harmful effects, say researchers writing in a special supplement of Science.

Mozambique decriminalises abortion to stem maternal deaths

23 hours ago

Mozambique has passed a law permitting women to terminate unwanted pregnancies under specified conditions, a move hailed by activists in a country where clandestine abortions account for a large number of maternal deaths.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.