Do we need Hershey to lead a health campaign?

Recently i’ve put up a couple posts on the American Dietetic Association’s recent corporate sponsor, Hershey, and other concerns about sponsorships.

Hershey is not wasting any time with this new partnership.  In an e-newsletter pointed out by Marion Nestle, Hershey announces a multi-year campaign called “Moderation Nation™.”  The initiative between the company and the ADA:

… will reach millions of consumers across the country with unique resources, public programs and educational efforts in pursuit of a singular goal: to advocate for and help people achieve a sustainable healthier lifestyle through balance and moderation.

They state they are donating $500,000 to the ADA to cover costs of initial consultations with dietitians.  Starting tomorrow people can visit a website and get a certificate to be refunded up to $250.  That seems nice, but recall the ADA’s total revenues of about $33 million in 2009.  I suspect this could be done without Hershey.  Regardless, if consultations are $250, that would only cover 2000 people (edit: after the launch it is announced that there are 1994 or until December 31st of this year, whichever comes first).  Even if they average less, it is not a lot of reach.  It still might be nice for them, but that is only the initial consulting- will they pay after that to continue?  A one-time consultation is not going to change habits- you need follow-up.  I am concerned about the effectiveness of this initiative.  I suspect it is largely to promote Hershey’s image.

So why does it matter that Hershey is doing this?  The second part:

In addition to the consultation program, this initiative will be supported by a national multi-media PR campaign led by a team of leading RDs and supported by ADA leadership. Designed to increase the visibility of and underscore the value of a personal consultation with an RD, the campaign includes:

Partnerships between [Hershey] and national retail chains to bring the MODERATION NATION initiative and RD consultations to the local level, through in-store education programs.

So Hershey will have their brand advertised right in store.

The Moderation Nation Advisory Board featuring nationally recognized registered dietitians, including Cheryl Forberg, RD – Registered Dietitian for NBC’s The Biggest Loser; Keri Glassman, MS, RD – Author of “The O2 Diet”; Regina Ragone, MS, RD, Food Director for Family Circle magazine and author of “Stop Dieting and Lose Weight: The Easiest Way to a Slimmer You”; and Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD – Author of “Expect The Best: Your Complete Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy”.

These names also concern me- it appears that they went after celebrity RDs who know how to get attention.  But are they evidence-based?  Cheryl Forberg and Keri Glassman seem to think using ORAC values of foods are a good way to eat by and slow ageing, which is scientific nonsense, and Regina Ragone has an extensive background in PR for some food companies.  I’m cherry picking (no pun intended to Ms. Forberg) from their work, but still it is unnerving- were they chosen for their nutrition sense or more likely because they can communicate the message that Hershey wants most effectively?  I guess we will find out when the website launches: A robust online resource with new and unique tools to show people how all their favorite foods, including chocolate, can be incorporated responsibly into their lives through a balanced diet and lifestyle.

Is promoting “balance and moderation” in an environment dominated by processed foods even appropriate?  If they don’t do it correctly, the message could be misinterpreted.  I have no problem saying that processed foods can be eaten in small amounts, but will people understand that the majority of the diet should be real foods instead of moderate amounts of many processed ones?

The website promises to have menus and other tools available, so it will be interesting to see how many Hershey products are incorporated, and if the meals seem appropriate.  They will also be reaching out on at least Facebook to consumers.

I just don’t understand why the ADA can’t put something like this together (that is evidence-based, which the ADA is often not) without a food company having their name on it.

I look forward to going through the website tomorrow and will update then… in the meantime please share your opinions.