How Not to Promote a Heart Association Fund-Raising Event

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S. for both men and women-more than 600,000 deaths every year. The estimated annual cost of heart disease in the U.S. is more than $316 billion for health-care services, medications and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

You’d have to be a recent transplant from Saturn not to know that diet plays an important role in heart health. Eating too much of certain kinds of fat can boost blood cholesterol levels and the possibility of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries), which can cause a stroke as well as heart attack. Eating too much sugar and processed foods packs on the calories, and often the pounds. Too much weight, again, puts your heart at risk. Eating too much sodium (salt) can increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart attack and stroke.

So what in the world was the American Heart Association (AHA) thinking when it sold Frito-Lay the right to distribute its highly processed, salty snack food at the AHA Dallas Heart Walk?

The question, posed on, which raises consciousness about healthful eating and Big Agri, makes you wonder if nothing, not even your core message, is more important than exploiting a money-making opportunity.

The walk, like similar events all over the country, raises money to fund heart disease research. According to WeightyMatters, it raised more than $4 million this year, and drew a huge crowd.

In exchange for its “generous” donation of Cheetos to the assembled masses, Frito-Lay got to:

  • Tie their brand to the positive emotions of the walk-joy, hope, charity, community spirit. Never mind that a heart attack is the last thing that would make you happy.
  • Target their marketing to the large contingent of youngsters in attendance (who got to meet and greet Cheetos mascot Chester the Cheetah) in hopes of converting them into brand-loyal consumers.
  • Promote the idea of junk food as a part of daily life that has the blessing of the American Heart Association.

An organization devoted to healthful behavior and saving life should be ashamed for betraying its message for 30 pieces of silver.

Sadly, it’s the American way. Remember our blog earlier this year about the breast cancer foundation’s unholy alliance with a firearm vendor? And, as one person who commented on the WeightyMatters site put it, “[M]y kids came home outraged last year after the Heart & Stroke Foundation came to their school to launch the Hoops for Heart program. Apparently the kids had been told, among other things, to watch less TV & play fewer computer games. The big prize for the kid raising the most money? An Xbox.”

If you’re more interested in doing the right thing, see our recent newsletter, “A Healthy Heart: Unlocking the Key to Long Life.” And to learn more about a heart-healthy diet, see this backgrounder from the CDC.

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