Big Food, Big Soda . . . and Birmingham?

From cardiologist Aseem Malhotra (twitter @DrAseemMalhotra) to WHO Director General Margaret Chan, there is growing concern with corporate food producers of high calorie, low density foodstuffs with low nutritional value sponsoring healthy life-style activities.

No doubt encouraged by the sponsorship deals struck for the London Olympics, Coca-Cola is now paying for activities in Birmingham parks — with the blessing of the Council’s Health and Wellbeing Committee and, it would appear, Birmingham Public Health.

Should we be concerned?

Dr Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP (twitter @mgtmccartney), was sufficiently concerned about us to write an article in the BMJ Is Coca-cola’s antiobesity scheme the real thing?  Since when, she asks, did public health policy on mass activity get placed in the lap of large soft drinks companies?

AdrianPhillipsPublic Health Director Adrian Phillips talks of changing an ‘obesogenic environment’, and the city’s strategy includes changing it.

You could argue that our local environment now includes adverts for Coca-cola and their high calorie foodstuffs, adverts made particularly potent with the message associated with healthy lifestyles.

Dr McCartney concludes her BMJ article with these words: [The] ParkLives scheme allows Coca-Cola to tick the boxes for corporate social responsibility, but in actuality it is just clever advertising. Local councils should insist that the cash comes free of adverts—or not at all.

Everyone I’ve met to do with public health and our parks mentions this deal to me. Loose change by Coca-cola standards, this deal is big money, and by Parks Department standards, very big money.

But has our strapped-for-cash City Council, and Birmingham Public Health itself, been tainted by the deal and is their work on reducing obesity less likely to succeed?

And it’s not the only sponsorship deal in town from  a food industry corporate. Kellogg’s are sponsoring the great Holiday Kitchen scheme run by Accord Housing this summer. Accord’s side of the bargain is to ensure the Kellogg’s logo is seen . . .

I repeat: Should we be concerned?


Added notes
* See Sarah Boseley The shape we’re in: How junk food and diets are shortening our lives, page 86

See also this article by Laura Donnelly Coca-cola in controversy over £20M ‘anti-obesity’ drive for more arguments on the particular matter of the Birmingham pilot sponsorship deal, repeated now in other places.

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