Canadian Experts Say: Big Food and Health Organizations Too Chummy

More than ever before, businesses are rushing to back good causes and to partner with non-profit or government inititiatives that are seen to benefit people. They are doing this to increase their own goodwill and improve their brand image. But what is the cost to society?

Whether it is KFC peddling fried chicken in pink buckets to benefit breast cancer or Nestle promoting active healthy families, “Big Food” likes to have its name all over programs that are trying to improve our health outcomes.
The health organizations that they partner with are more than happy to have the sponsorship dollars to help spread their message further and to help them raise additional funds. But is there a net benefit?

According to an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal this month, the answer is “no.” Yoni Freedhoff, MD, and Paul C. Hebert, MD, MHSc, wrote the editorial entitled “Partnerships between health organizations and the food industry derailing public health nutrition.” 
The editorial explains that these partnerships, which are intended to benefit public health, actually have the opposite effect through the promotion of unhealthy processed food. According to Freedhoff and Hebert, increased physical activity levels would improve our health, but it is the excessive intake of high calorie foods that is the primary driver of increasing obesity rates — a little secret that these “Big Food” packed health initiatives will not tell you.

Freedhoff and Hebert warn health organizations against partnering with the food industry. “These partnerships do not exist in a vacuum,” says Freedhoff in his blog post introducing the editorial. “Diet and weight related illnesses have become the number one preventable cause of death in North America. Health organizations need to divest themselves from Big Food partnerships lest they contribute unwittingly to that burden.”

Freedhoff and Hebert underscore an important point in their editorial and they are not the first ones to have made this point. 
However, health organizations still partner with the food industry more and more often. How can health organizations bring about the required change?
Where else can they look for funding so that they do not have to rely on the fatty, sugary, salty dollars of “Big Food?”

Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.


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Michelle Obama Taking on Childhood Obesity Crisis

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Food Obtained Outside the Home May Contribute to Childhood Obesity


Image credit: *Jeffrey* on flickr


Harshiita Sharma
Harshita Sharma6 years ago

Thanks for posting!

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago


Ernie Miller
william Miller8 years ago

that is a shame. It could end if you tell the health organizations that you will encourage all people to boycot their efforts as long as they continue to lend their name to companies that are unhealthy to peoples lives. I places like Susan Coleman think it is OK accept money from KFC to fight cancer, then the Diabeties people need to stand up and shout back telling them not to tread on our graves to fight your cause. You cant blame KFC here you need to blame the organization that allows its name to be used.

G J S.
G J S8 years ago

There is no doubt that receiving money from big businesses will influence the effectiveness of our health organisations. It has always been the case that funding influences policy. It's called a conflict of interest. As our nation's health deteriorates decade on decade, we need to force fast food chains (and other businesses) to put their money into research & development of healthier foods, not just provided as some outrageously expensive salad beside loads of greasy burgers, but to make their entire menus actually healthy and still delicious and cheap. This may mean making vegetarian burgers that taste like meat - yes, it is possible - try making spaghetti bolognese with Eve's Ground Round (ground beef alternative) - undetectable if no one tells you its not beef! Eve's is expensive but then it's just a little package in a supermarket - big chains could produce their own or buy in bulk to make it cheap. We need legislators to force this change! I'll vote for the ones that do!

Bon L.
Bon L8 years ago

Thanks for the info.

John B.
John B8 years ago

Take a look how nutty this whole thing is. You have a fast "food" industry that sells a product that can potentially cause or contribute towards the causation of several conditions that are going to kill off their customers. You have a medical field that is more interested in the $ than helping and healing. You have pharmaceutical companies who kill off or maim their customers. You have billions of dollars going into PR firms rather than a product that is helpful to the broad general population.
How does killing off your customers help anyone?

Consumers need to smarten up and form alliances with stores and products that are beneficial to their bodies and medical personnel who are not merely glorified drug pushers. Limit your purchases to products and services that are of benefit to your body, the environment and an honorable civilization.

Susan S.
Susan S8 years ago

I personally have difficulty with brands of food claiming to have special health benefits as a marketing strategy. The most obvious one I can think of is Becel margarine which claims to aid in heart health. The Canadian Cancer Society has understandable concerns about cereral companies for instance trying to make allegations that they 'prevent cancer' which can be exploiting people's fears and giving midleading information. While they have the slogan - eat well, live well they are careful not to endorse certain products because it is unethical. However, some products have adopted a 'heart-smart' check to let people know that they are low sodium or low cholesterol. Factors like these are important to consider as we make choices about which foods we will eat.

Robert O.
Past Member 8 years ago

I think the USA is worse, as far as the health industry and big food industry goes.

Gloria H.
Gloria H8 years ago

remember when Virginia Slims used to sponsor women's sports events? When did tennis players have a cigarette in their mouths as they hit the ball?
events people ought to get off THEIR lazy asses and court sponsors of healthy and socially conscious,LOCAL foods and treats.
As to people being "fat". They are now being politically correct called- "plus size", or "husky" or "curvy", - so much for the rose by any other name is still a rose. "Big" may still be correct...not used to mean tall (?)

Deborah Kampfer
Deborah Vitek8 years ago

I hate to be a real demon here, but has anyone ever thought about the fact that without these diseases these organizations would not, is it so odd that the breast cancer people want to cloak breast cancer causing food in pink and encourage people to eat it?

I think all of these organizations are parasites feeding off of ill health. If all of the money that goes through them went directly to research facilities, there would be much, much more money for research.

We all need to stop and think about where our money is going and spend it locally. Luckily I live on a small island and if I give money away, I give it directly to one of our island charities or to a specific person! However, we can all stop and look at the very local people or groups that need support.