Coke Cozies up to the Government

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I went to the reception last week for Diet Coke's red dress event. Here's how a press release described it:

Diet Coke and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health have joined forces to raise awareness about women's risk of heart disease—in support of NHLBI's The Heart Truth campaign—with a multi-faceted program that will reach consumers across the nation.

To celebrate American Heart Month in February, Diet Coke's Red Dress Program will take center stage at high-profile events, including sponsorship of The Heart Truth's, Red Dress Collection fashion show at Fashion Week 2008. Diet Coke will also unveil new packaging and programs featuring The Heart Truth and Red Dress logos and messages on heart health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest points out that Coca-Cola, whose products are not exactly heart healthy, is a strange partner for the NHLBI. The agency should reconsider. It wrote NHLBI to say so.

New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope asks: "Should Coke talk about heart health?"

I don't know how long Diet Coke and NHLBI have been engaged in this partnership but it has surely been more than five years. From NHLBI's point of view, the partnership publicizes the risk of heart disease to women. For Coca-Cola, the benefits are obvious.

Are such partnerships a benign win-win? History suggests otherwise. In 1984, Kellogg cooked up a partnership with the National Cancer Institute to put health claims for fiber on the boxes of All-Bran cereals (I discuss this incident in Food Politics). In doing so, Kellogg (and NCI) went around the FDA and undermined that agency's control over health claims on food packages. This led to the current mess concerning health claims, which the FDA is now trying to clean up.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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