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All Fall Down


If you are wondering why Americans are losing the wars on cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, you might look at the funding sources of the major public health groups.

Big corporations dump big money into these groups. And pretty soon, the groups start taking the line of the big corporations. Case in point: the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Earlier this month, the ADA cut a deal with candy and soda pop maker Cadbury Schweppes. Here’s the deal — Cadbury Schweppes kicks in a couple million dollars to the ADA. In return, the company gets to use the ADA label on its diet drinks — plus the positive publicity generated by the deal.

Cadbury makes Dr. Pepper and such nutritious treats as Cadbury’s Cream Egg. You would have to have your head buried deeply in the sand to deny that sugar-filled soda is fueling childhood obesity — which in turn in is fueling type 2 diabetes.

Just this week, the Journal of Pediatrics published a study placing a good part of the blame for childhood diabetes on soda pop and sugared drinks. The study found that an average can of soda contains 165 calories and that the typical teen consumes approximately two 12-ounce cans of soft drinks per day — that’s 20 teaspoons of sugar.

Anyone who knows teenagers knows that this is true — they drink a ton of soda.

The Cadbury/ADA deal came under immediate fire from Gary Ruskin at the Portland, Oregon-based Commercial Alert. Ruskin wants the ADA to return what he considers to be a “corrupt contribution” back to Cadbury Schweppes. “Maybe the American Diabetes Association should rename itself the American Junk Food Association,” Ruskin said. “What will it do for an encore? Start selling candy bars for M&M/Mars?”

“If Cadbury Schweppes really wanted to reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes, it would stop advertising its high-sugar products, and remove them from our nation’s schools. This is just another attempt by a major junk food corporation to obfuscate its responsibility in the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the United States.”

We called Richard Kahn, the ADA’s chief medical and scientific officer to ask about this. It was a long conversation, and Kahn warned us a number of times not to take his comments “out of context” or he would never speak with us again. (The entire transcript of the interview is posted at www.corporatecrimereporter.com. You be the judge.)

But on the whole, Kahn sounded like an industry apologist, rather than a public health official.

Kahn says the type 2 diabetes problem in the United States is being driven by obesity. And weight is simply a function of the calories in and calories out. It doesn’t matter whether the calories are sugar, or protein or carbohydrates.

We asked Kahn whether he thought it was appropriate to do as some states have done and impose a tax on soda. Kahn said he didn’t think it was fair to single out soda. Why not tax donuts? Or candy? Or just tax overweight people?

Kahn said that there was no evidence that sugar or sugared sodas were driving the obesity problem. (The interview was conducted just before the Journal of Pediatrics released its findings, but according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, several previous studies have linked drinking sodas to weight gain. Duh.)

We asked Kahn whether he thought it was appropriate to restrict access to junk food. He said that restricting access to junk food wouldn’t work.

We asked him why then the ADA was supporting legislation introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) that would restrict access to junk food via vending machines to school children. “Because there is little to be lost and potentially some to be gained by limiting the foods sold in vending machines,” Kahn said.

And what is to be lost by taxing soda?

He defended taking money from Cadbury — he had to be reminded that it was a candy company — saying that Cadbury was only allowed to use the ADA label on its diet drinks. And that the money would be used for educational programs to encourage people to exercise more.

And it’s not just Cadbury Schweppes. The ADA takes big money from a wide range of drug and food companies. The food companies include Cadbury, Kraft Foods, J.M. Smucker Company, General Mills, Inc., and H.J. Heinz Company. Of course, the ADA is not alone.

A doctor friend of ours, Dr. Matt Hahn, who runs a community health center in Hancock, Maryland, recently received a carton of 100 samples of Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal. The carton was accompanied by a letter from Michael McBurney, who was identified as senior director of nutrition and regulatory affairs. But since his name and signature were placed directly over the name “American Heart Association” — Dr. Hahn thought that McBurney was with the Heart Association.

McBurney is actually with Kellogg’s.

The thing that surprised Dr. Hahn was that Kellogg’s or the Heart Association expected him to give out the cereal, which contains trans fats, to his patients. Dr. Hahn told us he wouldn’t, since his patients can get cereals without trans fats.

The American Heart Association says that it agrees with Dr. Hahn that people should limit their intake of trans fats. But it said that it certified Kellogg’s Smart Start because it meets the AHA guidelines, including containing less than three grams of fat per serving.

“When it comes to Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal, the nutritional label states that it contains zero grams of trans fat, which means that it contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat,” said AHA’s Carrie Thacker. Wow — zero is the same as less than .5.

(Thacker says that Kellogg’s gives no money to the AHA, although we later learned from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that the AHA charges companies $7,500 per certified product, and $4,500 per year thereafter — plus certain other fees. And like the ADA, the AHA gets big money donations from a long list of drug and food companies.)

And then of course is the American Cancer Society.

Don’t get us started, except to say that we agree with Dr. Samuel Epstein when he points out that the Cancer Society has for years misguidedly taken millions from big corporations. The problem is that contributors have an interest in diverting attention away from environmental causes of cancer and focusing attention on pharmaceutical and other treatments.

As Dr. Epstein puts it: “There’s a fixation on damage control — screening, diagnosis and treatment — with indifference to prevention — which is compounded by longstanding conflicts of interest with a wide range of industries, coupled with a systematic discrediting of evidence of avoidable causes of cancer.”

Same for diabetes.

Same for heart disease.

All fall down.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, . Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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