Health Group Questions Michelle Kwan's Dual Roles as Both Member of the President's Council on Fitness and Coke Ambassador

Majority of Athletes on the President's Council are Current or Former Endorsers of Sugar Drinks, CSPI Finds

February 18, 2014

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the President's Council on Fitness, Nutrition, and Sports whether former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan's membership on the prestigious public health panel is compatible with her job as brand ambassador for Coca-Cola at the Sochi winter games. Appointed to the Council by President Barack Obama in 2010, Kwan's hiring was announced by Coca-Cola in the summer of 2013 as one of its "Four-Pack" of "Active Living Ambassadors" for the Olympics. CSPI says the dual roles for the five-time world champion skater cannot be reconciled, since Coca-Cola and the President's Council communicate opposing messages when it comes to sugar drinks.

"Drink water instead of sugary drinks" is the President's Council's advice. "Cut calories by drinking water or unsweetened beverages. Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar and calories in American diets," the Council adds.

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However, on the Coca-Cola web site, Kwan is pictured holding a bottle of non-diet Coke. The skater and the soda are "two of the most refreshing things on ice," according to the company.

"The President's Council is one of the premier platforms the federal government has for promoting its official advice on nutrition," said CSPI director of health promotion policy Jim O’Hara. "Therefore the Council has an obligation to protect the integrity of its public health messages. Allowing makers of sugar drinks or junk foods to rent Michelle Kwan or other Council members is unacceptable."

CSPI has written to the Council seeking its guidelines after being told that Kwan and other Council members adhere to "stringent federal laws pertaining to conflict of interest and other ethics regulations."

CSPI found that of nine athletes on the President's Council, at least five are current or former endorsers of sugar drinks. Council co-chair Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, has appeared in Pepsi commercials, for instance. Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix has endorsed Gatorade, and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers endorses Powerade.

Coca-Cola's director of Olympic marketing, Dina Gerson, told Sports Business Daily that the company chose Kwan in part because "she will be available before and during the games for appearances and events." Besides her arrangements with Coca-Cola and the President's Council on Fitness, Nutrition, and Sports, Kwan is employed by the U.S. State Department as a senior advisor for public diplomacy and public affairs.

In September, CSPI said that athletes with sugar drink contracts make improbable anti-obesity spokespersons after retired basketball player Shaquille O’Neal appeared with Michelle Obama at an event for Let’s Move, the first lady’s signature anti-childhood obesity campaign. O’Neal has his own line of 270-calorie “Soda Shaq” drinks.

“You can’t do a photo-op with the first lady promoting exercise one day and sell disease-promoting sodas the rest of the year,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said at the time.


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