When Charities Collaborate With the Food Industry

Collaboration with the New Vectors of Disease

When the history of the world’s attempts to address obesity is written, one researcher writes, “the greatest failure may be collaboration with and appeasement of the food industry.” For instance, Yum! Brands, who owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, linked up with a leading U.S. breast cancer charity, to sell pink buckets of fried chicken.

Save the Children, an organization aiming to positively change the lives of children, was initially a staunch supporter of soda taxes. Recently, however, the organization withdrew its support, saying that support of the soda taxes did not fit the way Save the Children works. Perhaps, it is only a coincidence that it was seeking a grant from Coca-Cola and had accepted a $5 million grant from Pepsi.

Through these partnerships, the food industry seeks to emphasize that inactivity — not the promotion and consumption of its calorie-rich products — is the prime cause of obesity. But studies showing that obesity is rising even in areas where people are exercising more are most likely explained by the fact that increases in physical activity levels are being outstripped by our eating activity levels. We can’t outrun our mouths.

As stated by researcher, Bruce Neal, from the University of Sydney (highlighted in my video, Collaboration with the New Vectors of Disease), “The message is plain – the primary driver of the obesity epidemic in the United States is now the food supply, and interventions targeting physical activity are not going to resolve it. So, while physical activity is good regardless, it will not address most of the burden of ill health caused by obesity. That is going to require a new focus on the root cause of the problem—the American diet.”

This researcher adds, “At the heart of the ‘energy in’ side of the obesity problem is the food and beverage industry. Put simply, the enormous commercial success enjoyed by the food industry is now causing what promises to be one of the greatest public health disasters of our time. As fast as we rid the world of the microbial causes of pestilence and famine, they are replaced by new vectors of disease in the form of trans-national food corporations that market salt, fat, sugar, and calories in unprecedented quantities. So, policy makers should work on pricing strategies that subsidize the cost of healthier foods.”

First, we need to shift relative prices to make it more expensive to consume animal products compared to fruit, vegetables and beans. Second, we need to increase demand for plant foods, which is not as easy given the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual subsidies – our tax payer dollars going to make animal products artificially cheap.

Dr. Bruce Neal then concludes, “The food industry will rail against the ‘nanny state’ and fight tooth and nail for its right to market a range of options to responsible individuals able to make choices for themselves–it’s the American way. For context though, these arguments are no different to those used by the tobacco industry, which also markets habituating unhealthy products in pursuit of profit. In the case of tobacco, the American people have agreed that controls must be applied to limit the harms caused. Poor diet is now responsible for an even greater burden of disease than tobacco, and food companies must be controlled in the same way if the harms are to be reduced. As unpalatable as this may be, the food industry would do well to strengthen their public health conscience, given that consumers are always going to need their goods, something that cannot be said for the tobacco industry.” You hear that a lot in public health circles, how we have to work with the companies, because unlike tobacco, we have to eat. But just like yes, we need to breath, but we don’t need to breathe smoke; yes, we need to eat, but we don’t need to eat junk.

Is it our physical activity or eating activity? See Diet vs. Exercise for Weight Loss and How Much Exercise to Sustain Weight Loss?

I touched on the pink buckets of KFC in my video Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, and Chicken.

For more on the idea of subsidizing healthy foods or at least stopping tax money to supporting junk, check out my video Taxpayer Subsidies for Unhealthy Foods.

It’s sad when non-profits collaborate with companies that contribute to suffering, but seems particularly egregious when the Registered Dietitian group does it. See Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Conflicts of Interest.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Rafael Edwards / Flickr

  • David Sprouse MS PA-C NF Mod

    Agreed! The Center for Science in the Public Interest (cspinet.org) is on the front line of this fight every day, but it’s an uphill battle!

    • mbglife

      I hadn’t heard of them before. I’ll check out their site. Thanks for the comment and link.
      Mark G

      • SeedyCharacter

        In addition to CSPI’s longtime advocacy, they publish a monthly print newsletter that is perfect for health practitioner waiting rooms. They are not as WFPB as NF is but they appeal to SAD diet folks in good ways.

    • mich run

      David, is there any data that suggests that even wild caught salmon is toxic, if it is from Alaska?


      • Meghan Hayes, PharmD – NF Mod

        Hi Mich,

        I’d recommend checking our Dr. Greger’s video The Problem with Organic Salmon. Though wild salmon contains fewer toxins than its farm-raised brethren, plant-based fat sources remain the safest. I hope this is helpful!

        • mich run

          Thank you. Well received. I had thought that most of toxins were in the fat of fish, but it seems that the lean protein can contain toxins as well. A bit of a dilemma, though, for someone who is allergic to beans and grains, nuts and seeds as well. Forced to eat some fish until alternative found.

          • Vege-tater

            I’m not sure this applies, not having had allergies myself, but I know some have found when they do eliminate animals products and all processed food for a time, a lot of their former “allergies” can disappear or abate dramatically, especially with the addition of real fermented foods. My “allergies” manifested as many illnesses, and my switch resolved about all of them. Good luck!

        • Thea

          I forgot about that one! Thanks!!

      • David Sprouse MS PA-C NF Mod

        Hi Mich, hopefully you saw today’s blog post about dioxins in fish

        , which has plenty of links to other videos and posts on fish and toxic pollutants. Bottom line appears to be while wild caught has *less* toxins generally, there’s still plenty of “toxin potential” given the fact that the oceans have become the world’s sewer!

  • easyout

    In making animal products more expensive to buy, we have to remember how cheap it is to fed them GMO corn, cows at least and I don’t know how many more animals for slaughter are fed SWEET feed that causes them to like it. When they engineered GMO corn and HFCS, the problem became much bigger if you look at what these are doing to our food supply from outside the box in my opinion. Cows have to be slaughtered at 3 and half years old or they get cancer from their food, so were not talking just cheap here but stupid. Even though this is old news, the people I talk to don’t know this. I wonder if Dr. G has a video on this.

    • NFmoderatorStephanie

      Here is some of what Dr. Greger has had to say on GMOs. http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/gmo/. and http://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-gmos-safe-the-case-of-bt-corn/ In summary, overall, there isn’t enough good evidence to show that GMO corn is harmful to humans.

      • easyout

        There wasn’t any data back in days of heavy cigarette smoking, but then we’ve heard this one before. We always seem to forget the immense importance of intuition. When something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t. Science is not the know all and end all of knowledge.

      • Han

        Even if it’s not harmful to humans, it’s harmful to the planet, and that’s harmful to humans.

  • rijelkentaurus

    I will insert an opinion that some will see as political, but I see as economic. The last thing we need is “policy makers should work on pricing strategies that subsidize the cost of healthier food”, that line of thinking has really put us in this position because “our tax payer dollars going to make animal products artificially cheap” already. We need to GET OUT OF THE WAY. We need to end subsidies ENTIRELY, not just migrate them to a new “cause”. The natural tendency of “beans & greens” to be cheap to produce, and for meat to be expensive to produce, will naturally give rise to an increased demand for plants over animals. Meat used to be very expensive and limited to a weekly meal at most, where before it was taters, taters and a few taters, along with some cornbread and some veggies. If we stop trying to “improve” things we might not make such a wreck of matters! Let’s get back to that and save some tax dollars in the process…or better yet, actually work to pay down our national debt. (I keep this soapbox handy and step up on it when I can.)

    As for GMOs, I’m all for banning them 100%. Selective breeding to get to a sweeter apple is one thing, that’s a process of manually “guiding” a natural process, far different than creating random mutations and running with one or two that “work”.

    • Jim Felder

      I agree.All subsidies should be eliminated. Subsidies are an easy target of corrupt officials and commercial interests. The phrase “pigs at the trough” comes to mind. I think more effective would be a health tax that would tax products based on a health score.

      There are a number of different methods already to determine a ranking type number for a given food item. It really doesn’t matter too much which of the existing algorithms are used. or if a new one is created, as long as the algorithm to calculate it is clear, concise and publically available with no special carve outs for specific foods or manufacturers. The tax rate would then simply increase from zero for the healthiest items as the health score of the item fell. I don’t think the maximum tax rate needs to be punitive. High taxes rates on the most unhealthy food would bring legitimate charges of being a “nanny state”. A modest tax would give unhealthy foods a bit of a headwind that they have to work against that healthy foods don’t. Besides the fact that some food item is so unhealthy as to be lumped into the same tax bracket as soda, which with a health score of zero would set the bar for unhealthy, could be all the punishment needed. Oh, and if I were king for a day and could determine what the algorithm used, artificially added vitamins and minerals would not count towards the health score, so manufactures couldn’t game the system by adding vitamins and minerals just to jack up the health score, like Coke did with Coke Plus or General Mills does with Total cereal. And lastly I would put the tax on all food sold regardless of whether it is packaged items from Whole Foods or the corner bodega or ready to eat from McDonalds or a three star French restaurant.

      Money generated by the tax could be earmarked to support nutritional education (community and in schools) and truly nutritious school lunches such that the really healthy stuff in the cafeteria would be free. It could also be used to help subsidize merchants who sell healthy food in urban food deserts. It could also be used to pay for non-commercial nutritional research which would have truth and knowledge as their only objectives.

      And even if an actual tax never stands a chance of getting passed, I think a mandate to prominently display a health score on the front of any packaging or on menu boards could go a long way towards giving consumers the information they need to make informed decisions. Then we could let the free market take over. If people actually cared for their health and the health of their children, then they would gravitate towards foods with high health scores and the line at the McDonald’s drive through would be full of those who don’t.

      • jj

        But who decides the “health score”.

        • John

          Some things are obvious-soda and candy or leafy greens? Tater tots and french fries or vegetables? Whole fruit or processed “fruit colored drink”?

        • Jim Felder

          Well that is always the hard part. Like John says there are some broad categories that I think we can all agree on. But I was thinking of something like Dr. Furhman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scoring method. To me it has the advantage of being completely algorithm driven without subjective scoring based on perceived “value” of a given food. So tater tots would have a better score than soda for example because it would still have whatever healthful attributes the potatoes it is made from had. But it would be lower score than simple potatoes because of all the nutrient free fat they also contain.

          The trick would be whether or not to include things that would be directly subtractive or not, like for example do the tater tots have points subtracted because of the acrylamides formed during deep frying? I personally would not. Keep it

      • baggman744

        Sin taxes, nanny state taxes, we already have enough, and it won’t, nor should it fly. Mayor Bloomberg’s soda tax failed, and for good reason.

        • John

          Mayor Bloomberg’s soda tax had made NYC the healthiest place in the country, but big Ag had to stop that. Always profits over dead bodies.

        • Jim Felder

          General question, should the government (at any level) work to improve the health of the general population? Basically is it the job of government to promote public health? Pretty easy yes/no question.

          If yes, then what is the most effective and least intrusive methods to accomplish that. I see two basic approaches. One, we could try to do mandates on what can and can’t be in prepared foods like limits on salt and added sugars and fats. That would require entire new bureaucracies to draft rules and inspect products. Industries would spend billions on lobbying and croney congressmen would write loopholes in the requirements large enough to drive a Cheetos truck through.

          Or we can just tilt the table a little to make it just a little bit harder to buy unhealthy food and a little bit easier to buy the healthy stuff. Then by setting the slope of the food terrain, people’s free will and the free market can operate without further impedance.

          But I would actually be just as fine with a health score on the package or menu board.

          • baggman744

            You outlined the problem with any government intervention, that is, government itself! Lobbying, legislation, multiple bureaucracies, hearings, back room deals… its all just red tape that goes no where fast. Look how long it took to ban trans fats, even though we knew for decades of it’s harm. As someone already said, what exactly is “healthy food”? That debate is still on going, and rightfully so as the lack of consensus continues, mainly because the science is still in its infancy. The private sector is far more adroit and responsive when it comes to consumer demand. So, I submit that the one roll government can and should play that would be easily accomplished, is to educate the public. This can be done in PSA’s, schools, digital/ social media, etc., literally in real time. The WHO has been in the practice of making regular recommendations with regard to sodium, fiber, saturated fat, processed foods, etc, and yet most Americans are unaware of them.

            “Health score”, no, that’s far too subjective and intrusive, and it’ll never happen. After all, we’re not talking about smoking. What I’d love to see is easy, clear access to the things that matter most, like sodium, added sugars, fat, fiber, etc. Some are already there. Some you have to be a food chemist to decipher, e.g., sugar. I believe at last count there are over 50 different names for added sugars. Here’s a simple law I’d push for, after each and every ingredient, a (insert description here) should be printed to tell us what it is. For example, we should see this: *barley malt (sugar)* or *ascorbic acid (vitamin C)*. In other words, if its not one of the three macronutrients, tell us what it is. Of course all processed foods should be minimized, but hey, most of us buy a loaf of bread every now and then.

          • A Newton PhD RD

            You make a great point here in that food labels are incredibly challenging to read and it takes a lot of work to educate individuals on how to read them. I’m not sure if you have heard but they are updating the current food label to better identify serving size, calories, and added sugar. Now is this going to fix everything? No. It’s a small small change when we need a complete overhaul, but it is something. Here is the link to see the changes being made (http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm). If you scroll to the bottom you will see an example of the new label.

            Lastly, I completely agree with you that including the common name for each ingredient would help us to further people’s understanding!

          • baggman744

            Yes, I recall seeing the proposals last year, which I believe are still being debated. I love the “added sugars”; we all know why. But as to the rest of it, I see no real difference. I am disappointed they want to remove “calories from fat”, as if fat some how now became a free ride. One step forward, one step back. Added sugars great, but we’ll have to do the math (which I’m very good at, but its still unnecessary) to calculate % of calories from fat. I submitted my comments last year to FDA, but who knows if it was even read. Thanks for the reply.

          • Jim Felder

            I agree with you about the possibility (probablility) that such a plan would be derailed by vested interests. OK, “health score” is perhaps a poor term for what I was thinking. Perhaps a less value ladened term like “nutrient index” would be better. Such an index value could be completely objective since it would simply be a measure of the amount of non-caloric nutrients in a serving divided by the number of calories in that serving. It would take some wrangling to determine what gets included in the non-caloric nutrient amount. As I said in my original comment, I would include a measure of antioxidant capability (there is already a standardized test for this) and the amount of known vitamins and minerals naturally occurring in the food items but not added nutrients. We could start with the ANDI score and then have a debate to see if the algorithm to calculate this score needs to be changed.

            Such an index would then be another piece of information along with the rest of the information on the nutritional label. I would much prefer the nutrient index to go on the front of the package along with all the misleading advertising, but it could be a line in an expanded nutrition label on the back.

            And this would probably be a more important piece than a tax based on the nutrient index.

            Oh, and I like your idea of putting the function of each ingredient in parenthesis. Manufacturers would undoubtedly complain that the length of the list of ingredients is already long enough without adding the functionality of each, to which my answer would be, yes, yes it is. Stop putting crap in food and you won’t have to tell the consumer why it is there and that would make the ingredient list shorter.

      • Vege-tater

        Okay Jim, I vote for you!

    • baggman744

      A logical argument. Although I’ve in the past said we should “shift” subsides to “healthier” food, by that I mean, fresh produce, locally grown if possible, needs to be more affordable and accessible. It doesn’t make sense (no pun intended) that a single orange costs $1.00, at less than 100 calories, yet I can buy a frozen dinner for $4.00, and get 800+ calories. Should we go completely free market? A conversation worth having. Meanwhile, back to the 3 ring circus… I mean politics…

      • rijelkentaurus

        There’s no perfect answer, but the free market will address a lot of issues by its very nature. Vegetables are inherently cheaper to produce than meat. Removing subsidized corn and grains would also potentially make junk food like Cheetos or Doritos (or the frozen meals you speak of) much more expensive to produce, thereby limiting their attraction. We tend to get into trouble when we try to manipulate markets too much. The cries of “nanny state” can be silenced as well. Eat what you want, if you can afford it! Once upon a time, rich people were fat and poor people were skinny (generally speaking), but now it’s the opposite.

        • baggman744

          OK, its obvious meat and junk food will increase in price. But how do we address making produce more affordable and accessible? We obviously can’t get rid of illegal workers, because then, that orange would cost 5 bucks.

          • rijelkentaurus

            Why shouldn’t items cost what they’re supposed to cost? And demand for produce will produce a market for produce, particularly when the true cost of meat production is felt. It should be expected that prices on the whole will go down since the government will not be manipulating the market in favor of meat. That having been said, it really is cheaper (by FAR) to eat WFPB right now and that should only improve given the lower relative cost to produce staple plant products such as potatoes, rice and corn. Add some cabbage, spinach and broccoli, and you’ve got a healthy diet even if you don’t add anything else to it.

            If a demand exists, and if we maintain a “laissez faire” attitude towards the economy, someone will fill that demand, and competition will raise availability and lower prices.

            And if someone wants some meat, then let them do what they should: Get their aspirin off the couch and into the wild, catch some fish, shoot some deer. It’s too time-consuming and difficult to get a lot, so it still keeps meat consumption low and secondary to plants, plus you actually have to get up and go get it yourself. Yay, exercise! Yay, work! And if you’re too lazy or otherwise disinclined to do so, or if you live in a city without ready access to game lands and fishing waters, then you just eat veggies and live healthy and happy. Win, win, win, win, win. What’s not to love?

            And then we can touch on our healthcare costs…how much is a healthier nation worth, both in the ability to produce work and and in the decreased costs themselves? How much public money can be reallocated to more worthwhile pursuits (like, um, paying down the debt?) vs. being spent on subsidizing health care costs of unhealthy people who can’t afford to pay their own way? I don’t say get rid of the people, I say get rid of the unhealthy!

            The more we try to manipulate things, the worse things get. If GMO produce is bad, then a “GMO”-style economy is bad.

            Or I could be wrong. :^)

            Since I eat WFPB, I am full of crap (but never for long)!


      • John

        It’s not just a free market, this is our culture. Are we proud of having a fast food culture? Do we want to subsidize exporting our fast food culture to other countries? That is what we are doing right now.

    • Alan

      rijelkentaurus – I agree with you 100%. Do away with ALL food subsidies and the problem is almost solved. Most people would not be able to afford any animal foods. Plants are the only thing left.

  • mark gillono

    i find this to be an interesting yet at the same time ironic topic for nutritionfacts.org. first off, let me start by saying that Dr. Greger is THE man when it comes to health, diet and nutrition. the amount of 100% free resources and the quality, time and effort put into the topics are second to none. that being said though, one of the organizations with whom Dr. Greger is closely affiliated, namely HSUS, is guilty of the EXACT same tactics that are mentioned in this article. one only needs to look at the meatopia and hoof haul events supported and sponsored by HSUS to understand that this supposed animal charity blatantly promotes the consumption of flesh, dairy and eggs. they have stated on many occasions that their goal is NOT to eliminate animal agriculture and they quite often partnership with animal exploitation industries while at the same time claiming to care about the welfare of non-human animals- check out the HSUS farmer outreach page on facebook or 50thousandpigs.org if you would like a very disturbing view about what HSUS is about.

    • esben andersen

      thanks for the web page, interesting reading!

  • bobday

    I had to watch this blog just so i could comment and air my grievances against—THE GIRL SCOUTS OF AMERICA
    Go to a dance, healthy exercise–with your dear friend at the door pushing— junk food in the name of wholesome childhood activities–I complained once and was promptly assaulted by an irate mother asserting that cookies were comfort food–yeah, comfort food to addicts maybe. If I had a daughter I would try like hell to keep her out of GSA, or start a chapter that promoted healthy eating.

    • mbglife

      Plus they probably still get a lousy profit share from the cookie corporations.I remember their fight to get more a few decades ago. I doubt it got much better.

    • intheskygirl

      You can still donate to a troop directly. I’ve similarly felt uneasy in the past about purchasing cookies for the health aspects. So in the past I’ve bought a box to share and gave the girls an extra ten. The girl scouts do a lot of good. Perhaps they can be persuaded to make some healthier options available. They are due for a cleverly named health treat. Maybe something along the lines of a trail mix bar with nuts, seeds and dried fruit. There is an opportunity here.

    • NFmoderatorStephanie

      I must confess that I was a Girl Scout 20+ years ago and I am guilty of going door-to-door selling cookies to my family and neighbors. Looking back, I am disgusted that I did such an activity and I find it appalling now to see girl scouts seemingly innocently selling boxes of cookies.

  • Nanaverm

    A bit off the subject, but I’m shocked by some junk food church members donate to the food pantry of the non-profit church cooperative benevolence agency I help administer. One of our board members even suggested buying ramen noodles to keep in stock! I strongly objected on the basis of a lack of nutrition. And “2nd day bakery” pre-packaged snack boxes are given, full of trans-fat and sugar. Few beans, no canned greens. Writing this motivates me to get the word out to the donors.

    • DrAlex

      It is about getting the word out. Most of the people of donate those foods are probably eating the same things. Learn for yourself so that you can then teach others! Keep pushing!

  • Vinny C

    Dr. Greger, I had been fighting a losing battle with health and mounting health issues. Finding this Web site, your videos and How Not to Die has been a Godsend. My health is QUICKLY improving since moving to whole food, plant based diet. You are my health guru! Thank you.

    • Thea

      Vinny: That’s just awesome! And I love the picture. Glad you are heading toward good health. It’s the foundation of happiness in my opinion.

    • WFPBRunner

      Vinny you will be absolutely amazed at the positive health changes you are about to experience. And they keep on coming. I am sooooo happy for you!!!!!!

  • Wild

    Oh goodie, looks like Canada’s corporate infestation has slipped under the radar again.

  • Walt

    Eat S.A.D.->chronic disease->goto doctor->rinse & repeat->go to hospital->die from chronic disease.

  • baggman744

    How ’bout when McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coke, etc., sponsor the Olympics? Then you get to watch the globally broadcasted events, with huge brand banners from the junk food corps.

    • Joan NF-Moderator

      I’ll give you a gold medal for so clearly pointing out how confusing it can be for impressionable viewers especially children watching apparently wholesome athletic events to see a seeming connection with unwholesome foods.

  • Vege-tater

    Ya know, I just got finished reading the wiki entry for Forks over Knives, and it kind of infuriated me because I detect a strong food industry bias and/or gross, willful, ignorance! The criticisms say it was based on shoddy, biased, science, which are shoddy, biased, comments! If a WFPB diet can even reverse the diseases that plague us as proven by our own personal trial, the debate is a dangerous and misleading stalling tactic. I totally respect science, but what does it matter what type of “study” was done when the results are so obvious? Which I knew how to change the BS article!

  • Kristine G

    It makes me sad when I run a charity race to raise money for our elementary schools and at the end of the race is McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I really thought I was the only person who had a problem with this. I live in a rural small town community.

    • Thea

      Agreed! Such a terrible message to send kids.

  • Han

    The nanny state? What should we call their eh… marketing techniques?

  • Morena

    Same here, Osteoporosis Canada made a massive advertising sponsored by 100% Canadian Milk, and here the message (posters represented many kind of cheeses, claiming to be a good source of Calcium to Prevent osteoporosis ). I understand this is to get founded, but the message is completely counterproductive for their cause. Shouldn’t they know better? Or maybe they Want people to get osteoporosis…. I was so disappointed and angry to see this.

  • Panchito

    related article: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160105-the-man-who-studies-the-spread-of-ignorance

    “Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the
    guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will
    always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational
    conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their
    products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to
    argue against the scientific evidence.

    “This ‘balance routine’ has
    allowed the cigarette men, or climate deniers today, to claim that
    there are two sides to every story, that ‘experts disagree’ – creating a
    false picture of the truth, hence ignorance.”

  • macbev

    How about pink cigarettes?