Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
This year, PHAI continued moving cases against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to trial, went to court to tell Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association to be honest about the link between sugar drink consumption and disease, and have been working on a number of other potential lawsuits with a public health impact.
We provided help to communities seeking to adopt and implement tobacco prevention policies, promoted smoke-free housing policies, and are working to disseminate the Tobacco-Free Generation approach to phase out tobacco sales entirely over time.
We created and curate a new web-based database of all of the tobacco prevention secondary literature that allows advocates to quickly find current resources and evidence on a range of tobacco prevention topics vital to policy making.
Most recently, we published a report on state policies to help get drinking water to children in schools and childcare centers.
PHAI administers the Violence Transformed project which uses a variety of trauma-informed approaches to utilize art creation and expression as a means to reduce the impact of violence in the community. We are currently collaborating with others on a project that is exploring the role that this approach might have in the context of housing insecurity in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.
We also continue to administer the Beyond OSHA project that works to improve the health and safety of some of the most vulnerable workers in the U.S..
In short, we continue to work our hardest to develop and implement “big ideas for advancing public health and social justice.” We are not afraid to take on the big corporations that profit at a tremendous cost to public health and develop new approaches to make a healthier world.
We do this without the benefit of any huge grants or contracts or gifts. While some of our income derives from fee for service work, much of our work is funded only through donations to PHAI from individuals who are passionate about public health.
Or mail your check to:
The Public Health Advocacy Institute, Inc.
360 Huntington Avenue #117CU
Boston MA 02115-5000
or contact us for more information at 617.373.2026 or email@example.com.
Developing State Policy Recommendations for Safe Drinking Water Procurement in Child Care Centers and Schools
Wednesday, December 20th, 2017
Access to safe and appealing drinking water in child care centers and schools is a key strategy to build healthy habits that children will use for life to maintain a healthy body weight and to support overall health.
This study sought to identify and summarize state-level policies in twenty states for drinking water quality and access in public schools and licensed child care centers. This information was then used to generate individual state profiles and general policy recommendations to achieve increased drinking water consumption by children and to ensure drinking water is safe and appealing.
The guiding principles behind these policy recommendations are to ensure that safe, potable drinking water is made available at no cost to children throughout the day. The state profiles and policy recommendations can be used to assess current policies for drinking water access and quality and to determine which policy recommendations are relevant to the needs of a particular state’s schools and child care centers. The state profiles and policy recommendations also can be used as points of comparison and sources of ideas during the policymaking process.
Download the full report:
Individual state profiles are available as pdf files for the following states:
This work was supported by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Thursday, May 12th, 2016
In 2015, a remarkable program moved to PHAI. Violence Transformed is an annual series of visual and performing arts events that celebrate the power of art, artists and art-making to confront, challenge and mediate violence. Violence Transformed furthers our public health goal of reducing preventable injury.
Project Director, Mary Harvey, recently sent out this request for support:
Dear Friends — Artists, Curators, Donors, Friends and “Friends of Friends”:
Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Violence Transformed and invite your friends and colleagues to do likewise. To make an online contribution, please visit our website: www.violencetransformed.com and click on DONATE.
I am making this appeal at an exceptional time in the very unique history of Violence Transformed. Now in its Tenth Anniversary Year, Violence Transformed continues to launch an annual (and annually expanding) series of visual and performing arts exhibits and events. In addition, in 2015 Violence Transformed embraced the goal of broadening and deepening its engagement with the health and public health community — supporting artist-led workshops for health care providers who serve individuals and communities affected by and at continuing risk of violence and identifying violence as a public health issue requiring the attention of communities locally, nationally and indeed world wide.
Blessed with a truly remarkable level of collaboration among artists, arts organizations, health and mental health service organizations, and partnering venues throughout Greater Boston, Violence Transformed is growing in ways we never anticipated and is attracting the interest of artists and organizations beyond Boston and indeed beyond our nation’s borders. Please keep visiting our website to keep track of current and upcoming events and to look at the works already brought to Boston this year. There you can also view a digital archive of Violence Transformed activities from 2007 forward.
All in all, Violence Transformed is exhilarating, fulfilling …and daunting! While we continue to seek grant funding where available, none of what we have done could have been done without the tremendous volunteer energy, commitment and passions of participating artists, curators, academics, social activists and sponsors. Nor can it be done without significant financial assistance from donors who believe in Violence Transformed and have stepped up to contribute whatever they can.
We use your donations to: support our curators and our website and social media staff, to award Artist Honorariums if and as we are able to do so, and to publicize the work and cover the growing operational costs of Violence Transformed. We can always use large donations, of course, but we welcome donations of any size. We are proud that at 80% of the funds we bring in do go directly to artists, curators and arts organizations that affiliate with us.
So …. thank you for whatever you are able to contribute and for whatever help you can give us by passing the word of this unique enterprise on to others who might be interested in supporting our work. I hope that you are proud of what we do and of your role in contributing to Violence Transformed.
Mary R. Harvey, Ph.D.
Director, Violence Transformed
Public Health Advocacy Institute
360 Huntington Avenue / #117 Cushing Hall
Boston, MA 02115
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
Cambridge Health Alliance
Thursday, February 11th, 2016
By Cara Wilking, JD, Consulting Attorney, Public Health Advocacy Institute
[PLEASE NOTE: This blog post was prepared prior to unexplained changes to Coca-Cola’s database of its funding of organizations in the United States. The information reflects the dollar amounts initially reported by Coca-Cola in the Fall of 2015.]
For years, the month of February has been the kick-off of the Coca-Cola Company’s sponsorship of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Heart Truth campaign. Heart Truth began in 2002, with the goal of raising awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of women. The campaign fits within the general mission of NHLBI to collaborate with a range of stakeholders to promote the prevention and treatment of heart, lung, and blood diseases. As part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NHLBI provides research funding and conducts outreach with the public to improve the public health. As a federal agency, NHLBI is subject to legal limits on its use of funds and HHS’s ethical guidelines for co-sponsorship of events. These guidelines are meant to guard against conflicts of interest that would undermine the primary mission of NHLBI. Coke’s corporate funding disclosures in the Fall of 2015 indicate that as public pressure on NHLBI built, Coke shifted the bulk of its heart health giving to a tight circle of non-governmental heart health organizations consisting of the American College of Cardiology, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, the American Dietetic Association, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.
Coke’s Heart Health Campaign
From 2008 to 2014, The Coca-Cola Company, under its Diet Coke brand, was the Heart Truth campaign’s most visible co-sponsor: Despite the fact that HHS’s ethical guidelines place a particular emphasis on avoiding the appearance of product endorsement, Heart Truth logos were printed on billions of Diet Coke cans, heart health-themed Diet Coke ads ran during the Olympic Games, Coke enlisted high-profile celebrities like Heidi Klum to appear at Heart Truth events, and Diet Coke beverages were distributed at community heart health screenings.
NHLBI’s partnership with Coke drew ire from the public health community because it seemed untenable to partner with a company that also sells sugary drinks linked to obesity and heart disease. The fact that the partnership focused on Diet Coke was particularly problematic because it closely followed the release of the NHBLI-funded Framingham Heart Study’s findings that consumption of diet soft drinks appeared to be linked to increased risk factors for heart disease.
In 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”) called on the government agency to sever its ties with Coke, but NHLBI publicly refused to do so. The primary rationale NHLBI gave for keeping Coke as a corporate sponsor was that the company allowed the agency to extend its reach to get out the message that heart disease is an important health concern for women. CSPI’s challenge to the program led to a public debate about the role of Coke in NHLBI’s educational activities.
Coke’s Heart Truth Contracts with NHLBI
In 2010, PHAI requested Coke’s contracts with the NHLBI pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and received copies of contracts the company entered into with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide on behalf of the NHLBI from 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010:
- Coke Agreement_December-17-2007
- Coke Agreement_Jan-3-2008
- Coke Agreement_Oct-21-2008
- Coke Agreement_Jan-13-2010-2011
At the time, the dollar amounts in these contracts were redacted as proprietary information.
Coke’s recent funding disclosures date back to 2010, and show that in 2010 the company paid NHLBI $440,000 in support of a fashion show to promote heart health awareness. Through its contracts with NHLBI for the 2010 Heart Truth Fashion Show, Coke was granted:
-Exclusivity as the only carbonated beverage category event sponsor
-Full use of the NHLBI Heart Truth logo in any Coke marketing, advertising and or promotional materials or activities
-Assistance from NHLBI’s agent, Ogilvy, in the “development of heart health content and messages” for its use
-“Access to heart health experts and spokespeople to serve on Coca-Cola’s behalf including at Coca-Cola luncheons, ambassador program, opinion shaper and other customer/VIP events”
-Highlighted attention to Coca-Cola’s partnership activities on the Heart Truth webpage
-Soundbites from NHLBI representatives at Heart Truth events for use by Coca-Cola
-The right to provide free samples of Coca-Cola products at the fashion show
-The right to feature Coca-Cola advertising in essentially all aspects of the event
-Pre-approval of “all [NHLBI] creative materials, press releases, collateral materials, signage and other items using” Coca-Cola’s trademarks
The breadth of the rights granted to Coca-Cola is in keeping with a typical private arrangement for event sponsorship, but seems startling in the context of a government run educational campaign. Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide was awarded multi-year government contracts from the NHLBI totaling $11.9 million to execute the Heart Truth campaign on its behalf. Organizers of complex, national educational campaigns must work with sponsors to ensure events run smoothly. The contracts Ogilvy entered into on NHLBI’s behalf with Coke, however, reveal a situation where it appears that NHLBI was granting Coke rights to advance the company’s commercial agenda.
Coke Abruptly Shifts Its Heart Health Spending
In March of 2010, PHAI wrote a detailed letter to the Associate General Counsel for Health and Human Services (HHS), asking that it review NHLBI’s relationship with Coke pursuant to the agency’s written ethical guidelines for co-sponsorships of events. In its reply, HHS cited a general provision of the Public Health Service Act granting NHLBI the authority to conduct health promotion campaigns and deferred decision-making about the appropriateness of Coke’s co-sponsorship of the Heart Truth campaign to NHBLI. Despite NHLBI’s public defense of Coke in response to CSPI’s letter and apparent agency inaction after PHAI’s request to review the relationship, after 2011 Coca-Cola shifted its support for Heart Truth and other heart health activities sharply away from the NHLBI.
According to Coke’s initial funding disclosures in the Fall of 2015, between 2010 and 2015, Coke’s total funding of heart health-related organizations and educational activities was approximately $8 million (click here for a detailed description). $7.8 million of these funds went to just five organizations: NHLBI (via Ogilvy and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health), the American College of Cardiology, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, the American Dietetic Association, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. NHLBI-related funding of the Heart Truth totaled $1.9 million with Coke’s contributions peaking at $1 mil in 2011. Starting in 2012, Coke sharply reduced its direct NHLBI support and shifted its gifts to private organizations not subject to FOIA requests.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital Cardiologists Associated with Millions in Coke Money
Coke’s Heart Truth partnership with NHLBI was created under the leadership of then NHLBI Director Elizabeth (Betsy) Nabel, MD. Dr. Nabel is a cardiologist who left public service in 2010 to become President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, MA. Dr. Nabel traveled to Canada to be an official 2010 Olympic Games Torchbearer for Coke and spoke glowingly about her relationship with Coke.
It turned out that Dr. Nabel was not the only Coke heart health partner at BWH. She was joined by Dr. JoAnne Foody, MD, the Medical Director of BWH’s Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center. Dr. Foody is featured as a heart health expert in continuing education presentations produced by Coca-Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health, and in 2011 was selected to serve as the Editor-In-Chief of the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) CardioSmart initiative. ACC received $2.6 million in Coke funding for CardioSmart and community screenings between 2010 and 2015. CardioSmart is described as “a patient education site committed to providing accurate, un-biased heart health information in an advertising-free environment.”
Coke clearly valued its relationship with Dr. Foody. As was reported in 2012, she was included in an email sent from Coca-Cola executive Helen Tarleton to a list of “partners” in various health organizations sharing the company’s position on a proposed New York City ordinance to limit soda portions. The email asked Dr. Foody to disseminate a Coke infographic downplaying the role of sugary drinks in the obesity epidemic. Coke’s direct request to advance a policy position potentially at odds with CardioSmart’s mission to educate heart health patients is a striking example of the depth of the relationships it formed with its public health “partners.”
In 2013 and 2014, Dr. Nabel and Dr. Foody leveraged their relationship with Coke into $1.2 million dollars of funding for a BWH cardiovascular health initiative called ClimbCorps to promote stair climbing for heart health and provide heart health education. Dr. Foody served as the ClimbCorps’ Medical Director. In 2013, Coca-Cola executive Helen Tarleton personally attended a ClimbCorps event with Dr. Nabel and Dr. Foody. The program no longer has an active website and all links to ClimbCorps redirect to the BWH general website. The program’s emphasis on physical activity fit well within Coke’s overall obesity strategy to focus on physical activity as opposed to diet.
Coke Exits the Heart Health Picture
Coke’s funding disclosures paint a more complete picture of how it operated and who it turned to when it needed to shift its giving from a highly scrutinized government agency to private organizations. In response to public pressure, Coke has since bowed out of the heart health initiatives it funded over the past five years:
- Coke ended its role as a corporate sponsor of NHLBI’s Heart Truth Campaign in 2014
- After being called out by the New York Times for funding junk science promoted by Coke and researchers it funded that focused on what it calls “energy balance science” (which claims that there is no established link between soda consumption and obesity and promotes exercise as the most effective way of compensating for the extra calories derived from soda consumption), Coke announced in September 2015 that it would no longer fund the American College of Cardiology including the CardioSmart program
- ClimbCorps is no longer an active program of BWH
In the process, millions of dollars were spent in ways that Coke itself now admits were not adequately transparent, and were inappropriate given the company’s overwhelming commercial interests in the health issues addressed.
There is no question that funds are desperately needed for programs to address crucial diet-related public health issues like cardiovascular disease in women. Coke spent $8 million on heart health education in five years (not including the in-kind contributions it made via specially printed product packages, Heart Truth dedicated websites and television commercials), while the federal government spent just $17 million on the Heart Truth campaign over ten years. The problem with Coke’s heart health spending is that its primary goal has been to downplay the role of sugary drinks in the obesity epidemic and to position diet beverages as healthy alternatives. Neither of these positions is fully supported by actual evidence and, as such, are in conflict with the mission of truly unbiased cardiovascular health initiatives.
There remain many unanswered questions about Coke’s heart health “partnerships.” To what extent did Coke’s initial participation with NHBLI’s Heart Truth campaign give the company legitimacy through what appeared to have been the government’s imprimatur and grant it access to the private organizations it subsequently partnered with? What other requests for political support did the company make of the heart health organizations it funded? How did Coke’s funding impact the heart health activities of the organizations it funded in terms of dietary recommendations to the public or support for public health policies at odds with Coke’s agenda? The most important question left in the wake of Coke’s co-optation of the Heart Truth campaign is this: Moving forward, how can the United States create and sustain unbiased funding mechanisms for the crucial public health issues of our time?
Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, has proposed regulations to protect consumers from deceptive practices of daily fantasy sports operators in Massachusetts. These include provisions to prevent youth access, limit monthly betting, and prevent professional players from using special tools to dramatically improve their chances of winning.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute previously argued to Ms. Healey that daily fantasy sports is illegal under Massachusetts law. At this time, 10 states have taken that position. Rather than take that approach, General Healey has staked out a moderate position of permitting the games while protecting consumers. We argue that some of the most important protections in the proposed regulations may be impossible to effectively enforce. Were it enforced, we argue, the industry’s business model would fail because it is built on practices that are unfair to the consumer.
Download PHAI’s submission here.
Sunday, April 12th, 2015
On page 1 of the Sunday Metro section of the April 12, 2015 Boston Globe, there appears an article entitled, “Group’s lawsuits aim to boost public health.” The piece, by health care reporter Felice J. Freyer focused on litigation as a public health strategy and PHAI’s Center for Public Health Litigation recent lawsuits against tobacco companies and stores that have allowed lottery vending sales to kids.
Center attorneys are hopeful that this news coverage will encourage Massachusetts tobacco victims to contact the Center as well as potential plaintiffs or partners hoping to end deceptive practices by food marketers, tanning salons and other deceptive conduct that negatively impacts public health.
New PHAI study in AJPH focuses on the tobacco industry’s use of personal responsibility rhetoric, how its legal defense strategies inform its public relations messaging
Friday, March 27th, 2015
According to a newly published study co-authored by Lissy Friedman, Daniel Givelber, Mark Gottlieb and Richard Daynard of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law and Andrew Cheyne of Berkeley Media Studies Group, the tobacco industry honed and developed a legal strategy that blamed its customers for their smoking-related injuries, and applied this effective and persuasive personal responsibility frame to its public relations messages. The article is entitled “Tobacco Industry Use of Personal Responsibility Rhetoric in Public Relations and Litigation: Disguising Freedom to Blame as Freedom of Choice.”
Friedman and her co-authors examined the tobacco industry’s use of personal responsibility arguments to avoid its own responsibility for the harm its products cause. In examining the specific language and rhetoric Big Tobacco employs, the study found that the industry rarely uses the phrase “personal responsibility” explicitly, but rather the expression “freedom of choice.” When the industry uses the term “freedom of choice” in the context of litigation, it means that those who choose to smoke are solely to blame for their injuries. When the phrase is used in the industry’s public relations messages, it grounds its meaning in the concept of liberty and the right to smoke. The study examines and illustrates how courtroom “blame rhetoric” has influenced the tobacco industry’s larger public relations message to shift responsibility away from the tobacco companies and onto their customers.
Understanding the rhetoric and framing that the tobacco industry employs is essential to combating this tactic, and can be applied to other industries that act as disease vectors. Industries who manufacture and sell products that pose a threat to public health, such as junk food, sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, dirty energy and electronic gambling machines, have adopted Big Tobacco’s well-developed strategy for staving off regulation, litigation liability, and social denormalization and stigmatization. The lessons learned from studying the tobacco industry’s use of personal responsibility rhetoric can contribute to developing a broader movement to use public health advocacy and interventions to change corporate malfeasance and behavior that threatens the public’s health.
Citation: Lissy C. Friedman, Andrew Cheyne, Daniel Givelber, Mark A. Gottlieb, and Richard A. Daynard. Tobacco Industry Use of Personal Responsibility Rhetoric in Public Relations and Litigation: Disguising Freedom to Blame as Freedom of Choice. American Journal of Public Health: February 2015, Vol. 105, No. 2, pp. 250-260.
Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, is releasing the issue brief Copycat Snacks in Schools on the food industry’s recent push to market popular junk food brands in schools. As noted in today’s New York Times story by Michael Moss entitled “The Domino’s Smart Slice Goes To School,” PHAI has called upon the USDA to address branded junk food marketing in schools. Starting July 1, 2014, all foods sold outside of the National School Lunch Program, such as food from vending machines and school stores, will have to meet United States Department of Agriculture “Smart Snacks” nutrition criteria. Not wanting to lose an in-school marketing opportunity, major food companies like PepsiCo are producing reformulated versions of popular junk foods like Cheetos® and Doritos® that meet the Smart Snacks criteria, but use the same brand names, logos and spokescharacters as are used to market traditional junk food.
For example, PepsiCo produces and markets to school food service directors a product called Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs Reduced Fat. This product meets the USDA Smart Snack guidelines, but it is not widely available for retail purchase outside of schools. Instead, PepsiCo offers Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs to the broader public. As you can see below, the product packaging is almost identical.
Copycat snacks like reduced fat versions of Cheetos® products are not widely available for purchase outside of schools and are clearly designed to co-market traditional junk food to children in school. The issue brief describes copycat snacks, how they undermine nutrition education efforts, and what can be done to stop the sale and marketing of these products in schools.
New study finds McDonald’s and Burger King responsible for 99% of fast-food television ads for kids, suggests industry’s efforts to self-regulate its marketing practices are ineffective
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Fast-food companies emphasize toy giveaways and movie tie-ins rather than food products when marketing to kids on television, which suggests that industry is not abiding by its self-regulatory pledges for child-directed marketing, according to a study co-authored by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. The study, “How Television Fast Food Marketing Aimed at Children Compares with Adult Advertisements,” is published in PLOS ONE and found that among ads for children’s meals, toy giveaways appeared in 69 percent of ads and movie tie-ins were used in 55 percent of ads.
“Fast-food companies use free toys and popular movies to appeal to kids and their ads are much more focused on promotions, brands, and logos—not on the food,” said James Sargent, Professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the lead author of the study. “These are techniques that the companies’ own self-regulatory body calls potentially misleading and it’s a clear sign that they’re not living up to their pledges about marketing to kids.”
Sargent and his colleagues examined all nationally televised ads for children’s meals by leading fast-food restaurants for one year, from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. They compared ads for kids with ads for adults from the same companies to assess whether self-regulatory pledges for food marketing to children had been implemented.
Key findings include:
- Nearly all (99%) of the ads that aired during the study period were attributable to McDonald’s (70%) and Burger King (29%).
- McDonald’s had the strongest emphasis on the children’s market, with 40% of its 44,062 ads aimed at kids, compared to 21% of 37,210 aired ads for Burger King.
- Seventy-nine percent of the fast-food ads aimed at kids aired on only four channels: Cartoon Network (32.3%), Nickelodeon (18.3%), Disney XD (16.2%), and Nicktoons (12.4%).
- Compared with fast food ads for adults, kids ads emphasized branding and the food images were smaller. For example:
- Images of food packaging were present in 88 percent of ads directed at kids and 23 percent of ads for adults.
- A street view of the restaurant appeared in 41 percent of ads directed at kids and 12 percent of ads for adults.
- Food images averaged 20 percent of the screen diagonal in kids’ ads, but 45 percent of the screen diagonal in adult ads.
Leaders of the food and beverage industry have publicly recognized the need to reform marketing practices targeting children. In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary pledge by major U.S. food manufacturers to advertise only healthier products to young children. McDonald’s and Burger King participate in the CFBAI. Both companies also have pledged to abide by marketing guidelines set by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which include a provision stating that food—not toys or other promotions—should be the primary focus of ads directed at kids.
“This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that there’s a big gap between what industry has promised and what they’re actually doing when it comes to marketing to kids,” said Cara Wilking, J.D. of the Public Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. “There comes a point when intervention by a regulatory body like the Federal Trade Commission or state Attorneys General is needed to address self-regulatory failures. These findings suggest we’ve reached it with respect to fast food marketing to kids.”
A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that among all U.S. food and beverage companies, fast-food companies spent the most on marketing directed at youths ages 2 to 17—more than $714 million in 2009. The report also found that fast-food companies have dramatically increased their spending on television ads and new media targeting kids ages 2 to 11. Further analysis of that report shows while some fast-food restaurants slightly improved the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, the number of child-directed television ads for other higher-calorie meals and menu items more than doubled from 2006 to 2009.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
by Cara Wilking, J.D., Rebecca Leff and Katelyn Blaney
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has its roots in “cage-fighting” and was long considered too wild and violent for mainstream sports fans. Not long ago cage-fighting was shunned by parents, banned by states and rejected by broadcast networks and cable operators for its brutality. While cage-fighting remains outlawed in some states, it has been recast as mixed martial arts (MMA). UFC has successfully migrated from pay-per-view television to the Fox Television broadcast network. Despite the UFC’s efforts to rehabilitate its image, bouts are still held in an eight-sided cage (called the “octagon”) where fighters’ blood is commonly spilled. The UFC has an official energy drink called Xyience Energy. NOS energy drink (a Coca-Cola Company product) sponsors MMA champion Georges St-Pierre and has built an ad campaign around the UFC champion. UFC fighters appear on cans of Xyience, attend promotional events and wear the Xyience logo. According to the president of Xyience, UFC fans, who are two thirds male, between the ages of 21 and 34 are the company’s target demographic.
Energy Drinks Are Associated with Increased Risk-Taking, Including Fighting
Energy drink composition, marketing and consumption are currently under investigation by state and federal regulators. Energy drink consumption has been linked to adverse health events including caffeine intoxication, dehydration and even death. Moreover, a 2008 study found that frequent energy drink consumption by young adults, particularly young white males, was positively associated with risk-taking including fighting. The study concluded that energy drink consumption is closely associated with problem behavior syndrome. The group the study found to be most at risk overlaps with Xyience’s target demographic.
Six States and the Association of Ringside Physicians Ban the Use of Stimulant Drinks During MMA Fights
In order to protect the safety of combatants, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ban the use of energy drinks during professional or amateur mixed martial arts bouts. Click here for a legal summary of these policies. State athletic commissions require that a physician be present ringside during mixed martial arts bouts. The Association of Ringside Physicians, a group created “to develop medical protocols and guidelines to ensure the safety and protection of Professional Boxers and MMA Athletes,” stipulates that “only water or an approved electrolyte drink by the Commission may be consumed during the bout,” and “[c]ontestants should not consume energy drinks on the date of the contest.”
The Cross-Promotion of UFC and Energy Drinks Is Unfair and Deceptive to Young Consumers
Marketing energy drinks alongside cage-fighting warrants further investigation as a potentially unfair and deceptive trade practice under state and federal consumer protection law. A deceptive trade practice is a marketing tactic that is likely to mislead a reasonable member of the target audience and is material to the consumer’s decision to purchase the product. A reasonable member of the target audience of UFC fans would be misled into thinking that energy drinks are permissible during bouts. The reasonable consumer likely does not know that energy drinks are actually banned during bouts in six states and by the Association of Ringside Physicians. This omission is not easily discovered by consumers as one has to search state athletic commission regulations to find such information. The cross-promotion of UFC and energy drinks is material to the target demographic because there are a number of energy drinks on the market that do not cross-promote UFC. Placing the UFC logo or pictures of a UFC fighter on a can and sponsoring top UFC fighters is intended to drive UFC fans to select drinks like Xyience and NOS over other energy drinks.
Energy drink cross-promotion of UFC may also be considered an unfair trade practice in jurisdictions that focus on marketing that violates established public policies. As noted above, six states and the Association of Ringside Physicians ban the use of energy drinks during fights. Marketing that associates energy drink consumption with UFC violates these established public policies and presents a potential health harm to the target audience of consumers—a demographic of energy drink users research has shown already is susceptible to engaging in risky behavior like fighting.
Energy Drinks and Fighting Don’t Mix
Xyience and NOS should abandon their association with UFC and MMA. Current marketing campaigns are unfair and deceptive to the target audience of consumers. Consumers deserve the same protections six states and the Association of Ringside Physicians extended to professional and amateur MMA athletes when they banned the use of energy drinks during bouts.