Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Coca-Cola Provides Pediatricians with Prescription Pads, and Kids with Diplomas

Today's guest post comes from my friend and stellar RD Andy Bellatti who some might not know is originally from Argentina. One of his contacts there sent him some photos of an almost unbelievable Coca-Cola partnership. As soon as I saw it, I offered up my blog for him to share more.
Last week, Fernando D'Ippollito – a pediatrician in Argentina – sent me the image that accompanies this post: a “diploma of good behavior” for his patients.

The diploma reads:

Today, (DATE), this certificate was awarded to (PATIENT'S NAME) because Dr. (DOCTOR's NAME) asked them to:

__ Stick Out Their Tongue
__ Cough
__ Take Deep Breaths
... and this was done without crying or complaining.

The bottom right of the diploma reads “Your pediatrician” and provides a signature line for the doctor.

The most disturbing detail – Coca-Cola's logo – is in the lower left-hand corner.

According to Dr. D'Ippollito, this diploma template Рalong with a Coca-Cola branded prescription pad Рwas given to all members of the pediatrics department at his hospital (Jos̩ Penna Hospital in Buenos Aires) by a visiting Coca-Cola representative Рa visit that can only happen with approval from hospital administration.

It appears his hospital's administration has not gotten the memo. Criticism and abandonment of soda industry partnerships with health organization finally jumped from “fringe” to “mainstream” after last year's Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) debacle, which resulted in global headlines, the disbanding of GEBN, Coca-Cola's notorious chief science and health officer stepping down, an end to the ties between Coca-Cola and the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the former severed ties with Coca-Cola, the latter was dumped by Coca-Cola) and a variety of monetary “transparencydisclosures from the soft drink giant.

2016 has only added more PR nightmares for the soft drink industry. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, recently published an open letter to Big Soda calling for an end to marketing to children. This letter came just days after a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest which detailed the many ways in which Coca-Cola continues to targets children, despite pledges to not advertise to children under the age of 12.

Today, keeping distance from the soda industry for a health institution or organization isn't progressive and courageous as it is a basic display of integrity and commitment to health.

Back to this Coca-Cola branded “good behavior” diploma nonsense (how is that for advertising to the 12-and-under crowd?): does Coca-Cola have ties with Argentina's national pediatric organization? That is unknown for now; the group's website page on sponsorship is, curiously, blank. The answer, though, is “very likely.” In March, Chile's Pediatric Society received plenty of negative attention after Coca-Cola sponsored its annual conference. And, earlier this month, it was revealed that Coca-Cola has generously donated to Spain's Academy of Pediatrics.

The point of these initiatives – which barely make a dent in Coca-Cola's operating budget – is to align the brand with health authorities in order to gain public trust. A sports figure hawking soda in a television commercial sells “cool”, but a pediatrician advertising soda via a “good behavior” diploma or a prescription pad is supposed to provide peace of mind to parents.

The best move health professionals – including, but not limited to, doctors, nurses, and dietitians – can make is encourage all patients, regardless of age, to limit or avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. In the case of Dr. Ippolitto, he tells me he and his fellow hospital colleagues saw this initiative for what it is: a cynical, and failed, attempt at buying the good graces of hard-working doctors.

Andy Bellatti, M.S., R.D., is a Las Vegas–based dietitian. He is also a co-founder and the strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a group that advocates for ethical and socially responsible partnerships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can also follow Andy on Twitter and Facebook.