What do you get when you mix big food and beverage companies with non-profit organizations that are desperate for cash? Yes, cause marketing (sigh!). If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably already heard me express concerns. And while the dastardly practice of linking health-related causes to unhealthy products is still quite active as this National Heart Month can attest, I’m optimistic that change is in the air.
“Why,” you may ask? More and more people are starting to speak up. In fact, when I researched my post about Pinkwashing last fall, I learned there are entire efforts like Think Before You Pink that are fighting to protect their cause from loosing relevancy at the hands of frivolous, misleading promotions. And when a mom recently wrote me about her family’s experience with food, health, and cause marketing, I couldn’t resist asking her to share her story.
Meet Kelly. She lives outside of Minneapolis, MN in a town called Chaska. She and her husband have 3 children. Kelly is a former kindergarten teacher and full-time stay at home mom.
Q: When did cause marketing first start to concern for you?
A: In 2010 our daughter, who was born with a severe heart defect, was diagnosed with ADHD. After prescription drugs failed us, an internet search led us to the Feingold Diet—a diet that eliminates food dyes, preservatives and other food chemicals. So we started eating mostly organic whole foods. We soon discovered that her ADHD was primarily the result of eating chemically processed foods.
As we began to see her health restored, the grocery store became a whole new place. Reading labels and sticking to the outside of the grocery store became our new normal. Many of the processed foods claiming “health benefits” or touting some “cause” turned out to be the products that triggered severe behavioral reactions in my daughter. All of a sudden I started to look at cause marketing differently because I noticed a dramatic improvement in my daughter’s health and behavior when we avoided all these highly processed foods. It’s then that I also began to question what other effects these foods could be having on our health.
Q: In the past, how did you react to cause marketing efforts? Did you ever a support some special causes by buying certain products? And, do you feel any differently now?
A: Yes, in the past I supported these causes. I thought, why not?! If I can eat yogurt and help support breast cancer research, that’s a win-win. And with my daughter’s heart defect, we especially tried to raise money for the AHA.
Now, I’m not so sure anymore. People can be easily deceived into purchasing of a product because it makes them feel philanthropic. That product may or may not be a healthy choice, and if you don’t read the fine print you have no idea what percentage of the purchase actually goes to the cause.
Also with some of these huge causes it’s hard to see where your dollars are really going. For example, we raised over $5,000 for the AHA but haven’t really seen any fruits of our labor. The facts about congenital heart defects are staggering. Not only are they the #1 birth defect, but they are also the leading cause of all infant deaths. Yet when I look on AHA’s website, I could only find one study in 2012 that even involved kids.
So nowadays we donate to a local heart kid camp that our daughter attends. Although I’m sure the AHA does some good work, at least now we can see exactly where our money is going and what it supports.
Q: The potentially deceptive nature of cause marketing is really important to you. Tell me a little about your story and why you want to speak up.
A: Our 7-year-old daughter has endured 4 open heart surgeries, 10 cardiac catheterization, and countless days of hospitalization. She’s had many close calls, and it’s a miracle that she is with us today. This makes you realize health is really important. We need to protect it—not wait for it to fail.
The experience with my daughter has pushed me to look at my own health and what I can do to prevent future disease. I know that I don’t want to spend one more minute in a hospital. I also have this same wish for others, and I believe it starts with proper nutrition. While cause marketing of processed products may bring revenue to a cause, it’s also perpetuating and creating more disease if the products contain controversial ingredients and GMOs.
Q: This summer Subway received the American Heart Association’s endorsement with their heart check. This month Diet Coke is partnering with The Heart Truth, a program of the National Institutes of Health focused on raising awareness of women’s heart health issues. Campbell’s is also partnering with the American Heart Association and Go Red for women with its “Address Your Heart” campaign. What upsets you about these sponsorships?
A: I know from my own research that many of the products that have associated themselves with heart health, actually have controversial ingredients and GMOs. There is little research on what causes heart defects, and according to the CDC heart defects are on the rise. Who’s to say that the processed food I was consuming prior to getting pregnant with my daughter didn’t cause this? We will never know.
Also, people are so impressionable, and they look to the AHA for guidance. This concerns me greatly. Yes, Subway may be a healthier option than fast food, but with close to 50 ingredients in their bread alone, I’m not convinced it’s a healthy choice. I would love to see Subway offer organic vegetables, less processed meats, and bread that is truly made fresh not loaded with chemicals. And seeing Diet Coke cans with hearts on them is very upsetting because I don’t believe it’s good for you, and I don’t want my young daughter to be misled. I’d also hate for someone to buy an unhealthy product in honor of my daughter.
Q: What do you want people to know about raising money for causes?
A: Do your homework before you donate to any charity. If you do decide to buy a product associated with a cause, make sure you know what percentage of your purchase will actually go to the cause. For your own future health, make sure that product is a healthy choice! And if you can’t find a national charity that suits you, search for a local one. Seeing exactly where your money goes is so rewarding!
Please join me in thanking Kelly for taking the time to share her family’s personal food and cause marketing journey with us!
So how do you feel about charities partnering with unhealthy food and beverages? Let us know by commenting below or maybe even sharing your own story! If we can get some great comments, I’ll be sending them directly to the American Heart Association, Go Red for Women, and The Heart Truth so they will know just how passionately folks feel about using cause marketing to sell highly processed products.
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