No one is more disappointed about what I’m about to write than I am, but I understand.
If anything, it’s worth calling to your attention because, when push comes to shove, we all need to be vigilant about seeking out multiple viewpoints when it comes to nutrition, not just the ones that make us feel the best or are the most persuasive.
The world’s biggest beverage maker, which struggles with declining soda consumption in the U.S., is working with fitness and nutrition experts who suggest its cola as a healthy treat.
The mentions — which appeared on nutrition blogs and other sites including those of major newspapers — show the many ways food companies work behind the scenes to cast their products in a positive light, often with the help of third parties who are seen as trusted authorities.
Ben Sheidler, a Coca-Cola spokesman, compared the February posts to product placement deals a company might have with TV shows.
“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” said Sheidler, who declined to say how much the company pays experts. “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.” [source]
What this actually translates to is Coke is paying fitness and nutrition professionals to blog about soda being healthy. During Black History Month.
“But, how the hell do you do that, Erika?”
In February, for instance, several wrote online pieces for American Heart Month, with each including a mini-can of Coke or small soda as a snack idea.
One post refers to a “refreshing beverage option such as a mini can of Coca-Cola.” Another suggests “portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans, packs of almonds or pre-portioned desserts for a meal.” [source]
For the record, the FTC requires that bloggers disclose any time they are paid by a company for inclusion in a conversation the writer is starting with their post. That being said, it’s worth noting that…
Most of the pieces suggesting mini-Cokes say in the bios that the author is a “consultant” for food companies, including Coca-Cola. Some add that the ideas expressed are their own. One column is marked at the bottom as a “sponsored article,” which is an ad designed to look like a regular story. It ran on more than 1,000 sites, including those of major news outlets around the country. The other posts were not marked as sponsored content, but follow a similar format.
Kelly McBride, who teaches media ethics at The Poynter Institute, said the phrasing of the disclosure that the author is a “consultant” for food companies, including Coca-Cola, doesn’t make it clear the author was specifically paid by Coke for the column.
“This is an example of opaque sponsored content,” McBride said. [source]
We’ve done this dance before, y’all – we discussed how the NAACP was taking money from Coca-Cola (and, as luck would have it, Comcast as well) to help squash the legalization of soda size limits in NYC. We talked about Coca-Cola paying thousands of dollars to sponsor the annual conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) – a premier professional organization for those in the field of dietetics.
Speaking of that, the article I’m quoting mentions that the organization’s code of ethics state that “practitioners promote and endorse products ‘only in a manner that is not false and misleading.'”
But, is this not misleading? From the New York Times:
Kraft Singles, those individually wrapped slices of processed cheese that have long been a staple of school lunches, are the first product to earn a nutrition seal from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the trade group representing some 10,000 registered dietitians.
Getting permission to use the academy’s new “Kids Eat Right” label, derived from the logo for the Kids Eat Right nutrition education program run by the academy’s foundation arm, is a major coup for the Kraft Foods Group, the company behind Claussen pickles, Capri Sun juices, Breakstone’s dairy products and other staples of the American grocery store. The label is approved to appear on the packaging for the regular and 2 percent milk versions of Kraft Singles, which account for roughly 95 percent of the Singles brand. [source]
So, as a way to create revenue, the AND crafted this cute little sticker to help thwart the parents who are “seeking out products with lower salt, sugar, and fat levels and trying to coax their kids to eat whole grains, vegetables and fruits.” Kraft paid for the right to put this cute little logo on their products, and it’s suppoooooosed to denote to you, fair consumer, that Kraft is merely a supporter of the AND’s initiative to demystify healthy products for kids. It’s definitely not supposed to signal to you that the AND endorses this product for children.
No, it doesn’t imply that at all. Because, if the logo was put on a product the AND disagreed with, they wouldn’t allow the logo to be placed on the product, right? They wouldn’t take money for something like that, right?
Not to mention…. when we looked at Michele Simon’s report on corporate sponsorship of organizations like the AND, we didn’t find clarity – we found confusion in the form of sessions like this being taught at their conference:
- Think Inside the Box: Increase Fiber with Food Ingredients: Presented by Premier Sponsor Kellogg
- High Fructose Corn Syrup: Myths vs. Science; Presented by (who else?) the Corn Refiners Association
- Zeroing in on the Whole Grain Definition; Presented by General Mills
- Weight Management, sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association
- Kids are Drinking What?!; Presented by Academy Partner National Dairy Association
- In the Kitchen and Outside the Box: Cooking Lactose Free; Presented by Academy Partner National Dairy Association
People come to fitness and nutrition blogs because they often want the kind of reading, conversation, and casual connection to someone well-versed in the field primarily because, due to the nature of health care in the 21st century, most people don’t get time to explore with the professional they pay. They’re often not getting the answers they need, or they can’t afford it. Whatever the case may be, and regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, bloggers are expected to maintain a level of integrity especially when they profess to represent a field.
For the record, sodapop is pure sugar, “natural flavors,” and water. And no, there’s no possible way this is healthy for you. Yes, that includes diet soft drinks, as well. Yes, that even includes juice, and some of your smoothies, too. And yes, you should be reading several nutrition blogs and cross-referencing everything you see so that you can get the most full, logical, sensible understanding of what you’re reading. Yes, that includes me.
I’m not against sponsored content – obviously – but if it doesn’t align with your beliefs, is it really worth undermining your own credibility? Even more… is it worth alienating your audience?
What do you think?