I went to Subway for lunch yesterday. When I checked out I was offered the chance to get a second sub for free, if I made a donation to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) AND bought a 30-ounce soda. In other words, contribute to fight diabetes while drinking about 20 teaspoons of sugar!
The irony of this pledge is better left to Jon Stewart. Or John Oliver (if you haven’t seen his bit on sugar, you should).
It’s almost unbelievable that the ADA endorses this campaign at all, but it does. Subway’s “Stop Diabetes Hands” campaign is in its fifth year and has raised over $1.4 million dollars.
On its own website, the ADA calls out soda as a leading cause of type II diabetes:
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people should avoid intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes. Sugar-sweetened beverages include beverages like…regular soda…[which] will raise blood glucose and can provide several hundred calories in just one serving!
Amazingly, Subway is not the first diabetes foundation to tie corporate sponsorship to soda. In 2011, a KFC in Utah did the same thing for the Juveniles Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) (see KFC Shows They Don’t Give a Cluck About Juvenile Diabetes). In fairness to JDRF, the affiliation was limited to one store and not a national campaign, though the organization’s response to a national outcry over connecting a juvenile diabetes foundation with drinking soda was alarmingly weak.
I understand the profit margin that soda promises fast-food restaurants and why Subway’s business team came up with this campaign. But tying charitable giving to one of the most notorious causes of the very disease you are trying to support is just wrong.
Subway (and by extension the ADA) is missing an opportunity to be part of diabetes prevention. The company has already built a strong reputation in offering lower-fat, lower-carb options within the fast food industry. “Jared” was one of the best fast-food marketing campaigns of all time. More recently, Subway added a heart healthy section to its menu, boasting the first endorsement for heart healthy meals from the American Heart Association. I can’t help but wonder how much good Subway could do in helping to educate the public and how much money the ADA could save in outreach dollars if Subway encouraged people to donate the money that they would have spent on that 30-ounce soda towards diabetes research in the first place.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.