PepsiCo: Demon or Reformer

If you want to change an environment dominated by huge corporations like PepsiCo to improve public health, what do you do? For tobacco control advocates, the answer was easy: raise the prices on tobacco,  restrict the places where it can be used, and demonize the companies that make it. But with sugary drinks and junk food, the answer isn’t so easy.

First, raising the prices will only drive people to some other option, which may or may not be a healthier food choice. Second, people have to eat, so restricting where people can eat doesn’t seem feasible. And at least one man, Derek Yach, believes that demonizing food companies will be counterproductive. Yach believes instead they must be encouraged to change for their own good. Yach, a physician, should know. He left a senior position in the World Health Organization in which he soundly criticized food company practices to spend a six-year stint at PepsiCo.

While his move surprised some colleagues  Yach says it was the right thing to do. He spent his time there encouraging the company to develop  healthier solutions and revolutionize the way they market products. Did it help? Yach thinks so, but not everyone agrees. Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert and New York University professor, thinks Yach actually has hurt the cause of public health by giving the company more credibility. “He was a much greater asset to Pepsi-Cola than Pepsi was to him, or to public health.”

Click here to read more at NPR and here to read more at the Huffington Post.

Ethiopian Pepsi image © A. Davey / Wikimedia

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