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Peter Getty is a philanthropist and contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. His work and writings revolve around environmental issues. Getty's philanthropic initiatives, as well as the organizations he supports, are committed to protecting the environment and spreading environmental awareness.

Fast Food Becomes Kinder, Gentler Philanthropists

"Big Food" Companies aim to be "solution" to obesity epidemic

“Big Food” Companies aim to be “solution” to obesity epidemic

Often called “Big Food”, the global food companies are trying to improve their reputations. For years, public health officials and other health-conscious organizations have berated Big Food, pressuring them to mend their ways, but those criticisms have fallen on deaf ears. Now, Big Food is attempting to change their image, promote healthy eating and drinking so that they may become “part of the solution”.

In 2011, the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA), a group that includes monster brands like Nestlé, General Mills, Kellogg Company and PepsiCo, wrote to Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), with a message that sounded more pat on the back than mea culpa:

“We all recognise that non-communicable diseases and childhood obesity are major public health problems that require multi-stakeholder solutions. As a member of the private sector, we firmly believe that the food industry has a role to play as part of the solution, and have committed our time, expertise and resources to do our part.”

In 2013, Coca Cola put out a 2-minute commercial expressing its desire to be part of the obesity discussion.

“There’s a really important conversation going on out there about obesity, and we want to be a part of it because our consumer is telling us they want us to be a part of it,” said Stuart Kronauge, general manager for sparkling beverages at Coca-Cola North America.

According to the Big Food giants, their part is a move towards philanthropy in order to combat the obesity epidemic, but it may be more strategic than philanthropic. According to a book by Samantha King, this form of corporate philanthropy may not be as altruistic as the food industry would like its consumers to think. Philanthrocapitalism, which is ‘giving’ tied to corporate business interests in shareholders and financials, is a form of capitalism under the guise of philanthropy. It actually helps to improve the bottom line instead of improve the obesity pandemic.

Most troubling: by funding physical activity programs, scientific research and marketing campaigns, research can be influenced by corporate philanthropy which the health industry fears can muddy research and evidence  in favor of Big Food.

Cynicism aside, Big Food’s bottom line could play some part, if only a small one, in raising awareness if nothing else. After all, substantial money will indeed be flowing into programs that could end up helping. It will be interesting to see if new philanthropic efforts will actually help fight the growing obesity problem.