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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Same for diabetes.
Same for heart disease.
All fall down.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
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