Bill Couzens, Founder Less Cancer – Commentary


When I first heard the news of Beyonce locking arms with Pepsi for 50 million I thought: is that the same Beyonce who was partnered in the superhero combo with First Lady, Michelle Obama battling obesity with Mrs. Obama’s “Lets Move Campaign?”

I am a fan of both the First Lady and Beyonce for addressing the obesity issue.

But there’s this looming question in my head: can you look like Beyonce and really drink Pepsi?  But then again, how do you say no to 50 million dollars?

I reflect on my own questions, look back at almost a decade of work to insure my time and energy were spent effectively advocating for human health and the environment. Would I throw it all away for 50 million?  Very tempting.  I could make 50 million right in my own head–we all could.  But this is why you don’t hear a resounding yes from me.

Pepsi frustrates me because they are in a place to do it differently.  Pepsi, marketing geniuses that they are, have an uncanny way of weaving themselves into not just places of the heart but also places of education and health care.

Pepsi seemingly owns everything, from Quaker Oats to Frito Lay.  Pepsi is the trifecta of money, power, and beauty.

And now, for 50 million bucks, Beyonce will be blending her brand identity to peddle Pepsi.

In the United States, Pepsi flows like water.  For example, you can get a Pepsi at Kentucky Fried Chicken that is 64 ounces, 780 calories, and 217 grams of sugar.  That’s 54 teaspoons of sugar.  I actually tried to see what that much sugar looked like and had to keep starting over because I would lose count.  Mostly, I was distracted because I could not comprehend how toxic it looked. Really Shocking.

Even super-fit Beyonce cannot run that amount of sugar off.

I cannot help but think about the negative effects this campaign could have on young people, especially minorities.  Instantly I think of Detroit–my birthplace–the city I lived in as a young adult and where I attended Wayne State University.  I wonder how this campaign impacts a city like Detroit.

According the 2010 Census, Detroit had 82.7% African American residents.  That said, according to estimates by The National Institute for Literacy, roughly 47% of adults in Detroit, are “functionally illiterate,” meaning they have trouble with reading, speaking, writing, and computational skills.

Huffington Post Blogger and University of Pennsylvania Communications and Public Service major, Ernest Owens, an African American raised by a single mother, asked Beyonce to: “Please put the Pepsi down.” Owens writes, “Throughout the years, I have admired your advocacy for health in the ‘Let’s Move’ initiative by our first lady Michelle Obama.”

I share Owens concern. We live in a world where media provides powerful examples.  When we have young mothers seeking role models or, at the very least, something to identify with–media has extraordinary influence.

Its important to understand that obesity is more than being chubby. Obesity is a cancer risk.

Childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled from the 1970′s through 2004. And no surprise the Department of Health and Human Services report that food and beverage advertisers collectively spend $10 to $12 billion annually to reach children and youth. More than $1 billion is spent on media advertising to children (primarily on television); more than $4.5 billion is spent on youth-targeted public relations; and $3 billion is spent on packaging designed for children.

When I asked founder of Dunk the Junk and pediatric specialist, Kevin Strong, M.D., his thoughts he suggested, “Drop it like it’s pop# and pick up the water!”

So here’s the deal; no one wants Pepsi to go out of business. I want them to make drinks that work to reduce risk not increase risk.

We all remember the jingle “You’ve got a lot to live–and Pepsi’s got a lot to give.”

Come on Pepsi, “Come Alive.” Invest in the Next Generation! With your resources—and Beyonce—you, too, can join the Less Cancer Challenge.