This morning, the New York Post ran an op-ed by Baylen Linnekin, executive director of the nonprofit Keep Food Legal, in which he exposes the growing trend of public health officials employing deceptive practices to push their agendas. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s not just the blatant overreach in efforts like the attack on big soda that’s got folks doubting health officials — but a growing range of deceptive stunts in the name of promoting public health.
This month, for example, the city’s Health Department launched another public-education ad campaign. This one warned New Yorkers about the alleged dangers of beverages containing added sugar, including certain iced teas, juices and sports drinks. The ads — which target children, in particular — raise alarms about the alleged risk of amputated limbs caused by sweetened drinks.
Consumers are wise to be skeptical. Fact is, many drinks targeted by the department actually boast less sugar than juices containing no added sugar at all, including orange juice.
And the threat of amputation brings back memories of another deceptive anti-soda ad orchestrated last year by the mayor’s Health Department. That ad used Photoshop to remove a man’s leg from a picture and insert a crutch and claimed soda caused the man to become diabetic and lose his leg. That was untrue. The public soon learned that the man in the ad was actually an actor with two healthy legs.
In 2010, another Health Department ad claimed drinking one can of soda a day “can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.” Yet internal department e-mails showed that the city’s own chief nutritionist called the ad “absurd.” And a department marketing manager said it “would raise a lot of skepticism within the public.” The ad ran anyway after the mayor’s health commissioner overruled his advisers.
Sneaky public-health messaging appears to be on the upswing across the country, particularly when it comes to soda. In California, a taxpayer-funded group, First 5 California, recently used Photoshop to transform a healthy-weight adolescent girl drinking skim milk into an obese girl drinking from a giant sugar packet.
Similar tactics are becoming common in public-health research. In 2011, the author of a widely reported study linking soda consumption and teen violence later admitted there was no reason to think soft drinks cause teens to be violent. In 2012, a Harvard-affiliated hospital was forced to admit it had promoted a “weak” study tying aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in soda, to cancer.