An Open Letter to Health Organizations Funded by Coca-Cola

by Kyle Pfister, Ninjas for Health

Dear health leader,

It was recently disclosed that you were one of 486 health organizations who accepted funding from Coca-Cola. I’m writing to say thanks. I’m sure you’re doing amazing, back-breaking work to improve the health of your community. You probably rarely get thanked. You probably stretch every last dollar and still volunteer your own time when the bank account is empty. It’s probably uncommon for a partner actually pull out their wallet and write you a check.

And that was Coca-Cola’s plan when they funded you.

You are part of their corporate healthwashing strategy. They use donations to health organizations to boost their corporate image and deflect negative attention that their product is void of nutrition and causes disease. They use the health halo of your partnership to slow action on health policies aimed to decrease soda consumption during a rising obesity epidemic.

“Our financial support of these well-respected experts, institutions and organizations were made with the best of intention — to inform our business, support our local communities and support solutions to the public health issues facing people across the United States and around the world.” — Coca Cola

It’s OK. You probably didn’t realize at the time that their plan actually didn’t have the best of intentions.

You probably didn’t realize that soda is pure sugar. You wouldn’t eat 10 sugar packets in a sitting, yet you’d guzzle it in one can of Coke. And somehow they have us convinced that this is key to our happiness.
You probably didn’t realize sugar was so bad. It’s in every neighborhood grocery store. It seems innocuous. But sugar intake can be addictive and toxic for many. Kids in your community who drink one sugary drink a day will raise their obesity risk by a whopping 60%.
You probably didn’t realize how big a problem this was. Soda is no longer just a treat — it’s a daily beverage for at least half of Americans. The average child in your community now drinks 224 calories of sugary drinks per day, nearly 11% of their daily intake.
You probably didn’t realize Coke targets poor kids of color. Black and Hispanic kids in your community are targed with twice as many soda ads, increasing disease in already vulnterable communities. Coke sees Hispanic teens as 86% of growth in the youth soda market. Unhealthy targeting creates deep health disparities and perpetuates inequity.
You probably didn’t realize they aren’t being honest. A company that honestly takes responsibility and supports health wouldn’t manipulate science. Yet industry funded research is 5x more likely to conclude there is no link between sugary drinks and weight gain.
You probably didn’t realize their exercise campaigns are sleight of hand. Soda companies don’t contol physical activity, but they do control their product. Focus on exercise is a crisis PR strategy that externalizes the responsibility for selling their unealthy products by blaming their victim’s choices.
You probably didn’t realize they’re actually fighting against health policy. If they were truly interested in health, would soda companies spend over $100 million defeat public health measures?
You probably didn’t realize philanthropy is a common corporate PR tactic. Big Tobacco funded scientists and community groups to reform their image as an upstanding global citizen. They specifically aligned with civil rights groups desperate for visibility and funding, all while selling a deadly product. Sound familiar?

It’s OK. You didn’t know this stuff when you accepted that Coca Cola funding. But now you do. And when you know better, you do better.

So it’s time to act.

Stop Your Coca-Cola Partnership Today

Return the money. And sign an organizational policy to no longer accept soda industry funding. Divest from disease.

Wait, wait, hear me out.

I know it’s going to be difficult now that you rely on those funds. And that was Coke’s plan. I know times are hard for non-profits. That was Coke’s plan. I know you’re worried that without the funding, you may not be able to provide crucial community services. That was Coke’s plan. But above all, I know you believe authentically in the public’s health and take serious responsibility for your role in preventing disease. And that’s never been Coke’s plan.

Don’t wait for your shitty boyfriend to dump you first, that’s just awkward.

Write a press release celebrating your healthy decision. Host a press conference dumping a 2 liter down the drain. Invite local funders to support your stand by writing a check to replace the Coke funds you’re rejecting. Call on partner organizations to also join you in your effort.

By standing up, you can be a role model. You can change the norm of health organizations partnering with corporations who cause disease.

Let’s start a wave of health projects cutting ties with soda.

Thank you for all you do. Seriously.


The public’s health

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