Concerns are widespread about the influence of pharmaceutical and other corporate interests on health and medical research, education, practice and policy.

The Crikey Register of Influence, for example, documents the involvement of health and medical experts in many industry advertising and marketing campaigns.

But we hear far less about how the corporate sector seeks to influence those working in public health.

Traditionally, the public health community may have regarded itself as a relative “cleanskin” when it comes to commercial conflicts of interest.

But as the food, beverage, alcohol, transport, gambling and energy industries, to name a few, come under increasing regulatory pressure, they are turning to some strategies that are worth documenting.

One such strategy is to make friends of those who could become influential critics. Typical strategies include sponsorship of research, conferences, and professional organisations, or inviting experts to join advisory boards.

This recent paper outlines for example, how the tobacco industry has used so called “corporate responsibility” initiatives to leverage its influence.

Below begins an effort to document these activities more widely, and the ties between public health professionals and the industries whose activities are often to the detriment of public health.

The Croakey Register of Influencers in Public Health (CRIPH) also includes links to relevant articles, with the aim of encouraging greater awareness and discussion about such ties, their impact, and their appropriateness.

I am looking for collaborators to help build and maintain the CRIPH — to contribute content and also to create a searchable database. Contributors will be acknowledged, and there may also be opportunities for cross-postings/publishings.

It would be useful, for example, to be able to search on particular companies, industries, institutions, researchers, etc.

Are there any database-savvy public health/journalist/researcher/student types interesting in collaborating?

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Croakey Register of Influencers in Public Health (August 2011)

Food and beverage companies

  • Dietitians Association of Australia. Corporate partners include global dairy company Fonterra, Kellogg’s, Meat and Livestock Australia, Unilever Australia, Nestle, Dairy Australia and Nutricia (part of the international food company Danone). Sponsors of its 2011 conference included Coca-Cola South Pacific, Kellogg, Mars Chocolate, McDonald’s Australia and Nestle.
  • Sponsors of The American Dietetic Association, “the world’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals”, include the Coca-Cola Company, National Dairy Council, PepsiCo, Kellogg Company, Mars, and Unilever. Source: 2010 annual report
  • Coca-Cola Co donated $US250,000 to San Francisco Parks Trust, an organisation that supports San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department.  Source: The Bay Citizen
  • A Pepsi campaign promoted mega-size Pepsi to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the US. Documented by Marion Nestle.
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians has entered into a corporate partnership with the Coca-Cola Co, which is making a grant for the academy to develop consumer education content related to beverages and sweeteners for the AAFP’s consumer health and wellness website, FamilyDoctor.org. Dr Michael Siegel, a Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, has critiqued the arrangement.
  • The soft drink industry in the US (via the Foundation for a Healthy America, created by the American Beverage Association, the national trade group representing manufacturers and bottlers) is making a $US10 million donation to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to fund research into and prevention of childhood obesity. The ABA was seen as influential in blocking plans for a tax on sugary drinks. Analysis by Marion Nestle is here.
  • In the US, the PepsiCo Foundation has contributed $2.5 million to the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation — a coalition of businesses, non-profit organisations and athletes committed to reducing obesity by 2015. The grant is being used for a public education campaign for mothers and children, and to implement a school-based program. PepsiCo is also continuing to support the YMCA of the USA to improve the health, nutrition and well being of underserved African-American and Latino populations — a collaborative program that has reached nearly 40,000 people in 85 communities. The foundation’s partnership with Save the Children has reached approximately 850,000 people in India and Bangladesh to help improve health and nutrition. And the foundation’s partnership with the World Food Program (WFP), which “leverages PepsiCo’s supply chain expertise to improve the WFP’s logistics efficiency, will indirectly benefit approximately 90 million people served by the program”. PepsiCo’s 2010 annual report.

Peter Fray

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