Are corporate health communication sponsorships potentially dangerous?
I’m sure we’ve all seen “Pink” products, communicating public health messages to us about proper ways to “save lives” and “fight breast cancer.” We’ve come across them in small and big-box stores selling groceries, clothing, and household items; in beauty products. One particular “Think Pink campaign” last year (since discontinued due to public pressure), even sold “breast cancer” fast food products (see image for KFC and Komen’s “Buckets for the Cure” initiative).
Beyond the notion of “pinkwashing“–a corporate advertising strategy in which pink ribbons are put on products that are themselves dangerous to women’s health, and often linked causally to breast cancer — how do corporate-sponsored health campaigns also re-orient our notions of how to best promote public health?
Recently, while researching “what the graphs tell us” for how Komen and ACS spend their dollars as generated by corporate sponsorships, I found one point potentially alarming. Namely, a 46% “public health education” expenditure by Komen. This is because most of their “awareness” building–as experienced in advertisements, “Race for the Cure” (TM) runs and other products–is all about “early detection” via mammograms. No “education and awareness” is focused on environmental exposures in household, workplace, cosmetic/medical product and nutritional exposures via chemicals which are linked to potentially 50% of cancers in the US (Cook, 2010, Marla, 2007)*.
Here’s another note on how corporate sponsorships bring into contrast the Komen commitment to “fighting breast cancer” with actual tactics of preventing (versus detecting) breast cancer incidence in women subject to innumerable toxic exposures. Moreover, regarding breast cancer detection through mammography (not to mention the politics of public health philanthropy), I found an interesting link–the Komen Foundation not only invested its generated proceeds in Brinker International (CEO Nancy Brinker’s husband’s restaurant conglomerate), but in GE’s stocks heavily. Here is a recent press release from Komen on “innovation” with its partner, GE, one of the largest mammogram equipment manufactures in the world.
To offer equal footing, here’s an interesting counter-example on how early detection makes sense (notice the authors do not mention breast cancer, but other cancers).
Let me know what you think. Have you ever questioned any of the way corporate-sponsored health campaign dollars are being spent–and how they might affect the ethics of public health communication?
Cone, Marla. “Common Chemicals are Linked to Breast Cancer. Of the 216 compounds, many in the air, food, or every- day items.” Los Angeles Times. 13 May 2007.
Cook, Ken. “EWG’s Ken Cook Testifies on House Bill to Reform Chemicals Law.” Prepared Congressional Testimony, Environmental Working Group. 29 July 2010. <http://www.ewg.org>
* Note: I am interested in Breast Cancer health campaigns, and whether they support a status quo of response to breast cancer in the U.S. and globally, or get us to approach the disease comprehensively, in terms of prevention and treatment–not just detection. Here are some earlier posts in which you may be interested.