Thursday, January 31, 2008

Go Red?

Tomorrow, I'll be wearing a red sweater to support the Go Red for Women campaign, sponsored by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, but I do so with mixed emotion. While I support the concept of raising awareness of women's heart health, I get nauseated at the grotesque sums of money this campaign earns from corporate interests, especially when significant potential conflicts of interest arise in sponsorship. It's not to say that the movement's "near-term goal is nothing less than a 25% reduction in coronary heart disease and stroke risk by the year 2010" isn't noble. Certainly the new broader definition of myocardial infarction revealed this year will go a long way toward achieving that goal. In fact, given that new expanded definition, they can probably already proclaim victory in achieving their goal since heart attacks will be diagnosed more frequently next year compared to last year.

Also, zillions of nice "events" are planned for this day - each with tons of sponsors' paraphernalia - all sprinkled about the audience to raise awareness of heart disease, tune-ups, floor tile, and cutlery while corporations add to their marketing budgets. The conflicts that this bling brings to the event reminds me of the conflicts inherent to "free lunches" provided at Grand Rounds sponsored by drug companies.

Take for instance, Merck. They're one of the "Proud National Sponsors" of the Go Red for Women campaign.

But they're also interested in the controvertial promotion of Gardasil for women to prevent cervical cancer. Merck also sells Vioxx, Vytorin, and Zetia - several drugs without such great press lately in their quest to prevent heart disease.

Other corporate sponsors' motivations are less clear - like Jiffy Lube, Diet Coke, Campbell's Soup, Cutco, Brighton, Clairol Professional, Hamilton Beach, Flooring America, Starkist, Del Monte, Swanson's and RiteAid pharmacies. I mean, its so touchy feely and the women's purchasing power so important that corporations have jumped on this feel-good campaign like a tick on a bloodhound. Where exactly are their heart health motivations? In assuring sodium loading, cutlery, or toxic chemical exposures to women?

Or is this campaign really about funding research for the prevention of women's heart disease?

If so, can anyone point me to studies funded by this endeavor? Or does it just go to the general operating budget of the American Heart Association or NIMH for their big comfy corporate furniture, officer salaries, or office appointments? It's just not clear where all the money goes.

Maybe it goes for all those nice red dress pins or the Heart Checkup website? Seems like a heck of a lot of dough for that.

Yes, I'm jaded. I admit it. But I remember grocery store Green Stamps - that cute marketing invention of grocery store chains of the 1950's and 1960's that proported to help people save money if they just saved more stamps, yet actually made money for the sponsors because people never redeemed them. So I am skeptical of corporate marketing bonanzas like the Go Red Campaign that have yet to demonstrate tangible benefits to reducing women's heart disease while exacting considerable costs to our society.

So if you see me in red tomorrow, remember that I hope my red sweater raises awareness of the need for women to have a better appreciation of their heart health. I just hope it doesn't also advocate for the red budgets of families unable to afford healthcare and medications in America.



Anonymous said...

I've followed your blog for a while now Dr. Wes and I do like your style. You cut through the bullshit/corporate crap that pervades modern medicine, showing readers how to 'follow the money', and for that I applaud your blog.

DrWes said...

Anony 10:41 -
You just made my day. Thank you.