Washington: Strong public campaigns need to be organized by health advocates to educate people about the dangers of sugary beverages and the misleading corporate social responsibility campaigns that distract attention from the risks that their products pose, according to US experts.
In a Policy Forum article, the authors (media and public health experts from the Berkeley and Boston, USA) examined prominent campaigns from industry leaders PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, that, according to the authors, have embraced corporate social responsibility (CSR) with elaborate, expensive, and multinational campaigns.
The authors have said that while soda companies may not face the level of social stigmatization or regulatory pressure that now confronts Big Tobacco, concern over soda and the obesity epidemic is growing.
In response to health concerns about their products, the authors argued that soda companies have launched comprehensive CSR initiatives sooner than did tobacco companies but that these campaigns echo the tobacco industry’s use of CSR as a means to focus responsibility on consumers rather than the corporation, bolster the companies’ and products’ popularity, and to prevent regulation.
However, unlike tobacco CSR campaigns, soda company CSR campaigns explicitly target young people and aim to increase sales.
The authors said it was clear that the soda CSR campaigns strengthen the idea that obesity is caused by “bad” behavior of customers, thereby diverting attention from soda’s contribution to increasing obesity rates.
“For example, CSR campaigns that include the construction and upgrading of parks for youth who are at risk for diet-related illnesses keep the focus on physical activity, rather than on unhealthful foods and drinks. Such tactics redirect the responsibility for health outcomes from corporations onto its consumers, and externalize the negative effects of increased obesity to the public,” the authors said.
“Emerging science on the addictiveness of sugar, especially when combined with the known addictive properties of caffeine found in many sugary beverages, should further heighten awareness of the product’s public health threat similar to the understanding about the addictiveness of tobacco products.
“Public health advocates must continue to monitor the CSR activities of soda companies, and remind the public and policymakers that, similar to Big Tobacco, soda industry CSR aims to position the companies, and their products, as socially acceptable rather than contributing to a social ill,” they added.
The paper has been published in PLoS Medicine.