Statement at the TIAA-CREF Annual Meeting
Fern Gale Estrow, MS, RD, CDN
Private Nutrition Consultant, Educator and Speaker
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
July 19, 2005
My name is Fern Gale Estrow. I am a proxy representing a concerned TIAA-CREF shareholder.
I am representing the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a national coalition that counters the harmful effects of marketing to children.
I am withholding my votes for the directors of this because TIAA-CREF’s currently includes Coca-Cola in its Social Choice accounts. Simply put, a company that undermines the health of our children through the aggressive marketing of nutritionally deficient products is not a social choice.
Earlier this spring, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that said for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents. The reason? The rapid rise of childhood obesity and it attendant health problems, which if left unchecked could shorten their lives by as much as five years.
What does this have to with Coca-Cola and TIAA-CREF’s Social Choice accounts? Plenty. Obesity rates have risen in tandem with a startling increase in soft drink consumption. The chance that a child will be overweight increases with each daily serving of sugared soft drinks they consume. There is a growing consensus that soft drinks are contributing to health problems for children, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and others in the public health community have called for restrictions on soft drink marketing.
And yet, as the epidemic of childhood obesity worsens, Coca-Cola is spending more money and finding new ways to market products to children in the hopes of developing lifetime brand loyalty. Coca-Cola’s guidelines for marketing to children state, “The Coca-Cola Company and its local bottling partners do not aim or direct any marketing activity from any source to children under the age of 12,” but a quick glance at some of Coke’s marketing practices demonstrate this claim simply is not true. There are Coke toys such as checker sets and cars that are designed to introduce kids as young as two to the Coca-Cola brand. Coke’s product placement is ubiquitous on American Idol, the top-rated show for children ages 2-11. Coke’s sponsorship of films such as the Harry Potter movies is clearly designed to reach young children.
And Coca-Cola markets aggressively to children in schools. In 2003, in response to growing concern about the presence of soft drinks in schools, Coca-Cola announced its so-called Model Guidelines for School Beverage Partnerships. These self-serving guidelines do nothing to restrict soda sales to middle and high school students. They also permit the marketing of sugar-laden “sports drinks” to younger children. The guidelines even permit the use of the Coca-Cola logo on materials promoting health and nutrition education.
Across the country, advocates for children and public health have fought for legislation that would remove soda from our nation’s schools. But time and time again – in states such as Oregon, Kentucky, and most recently Connecticut – these efforts have been undermined by Coca-Cola intense lobbying efforts.
A company that actively lobbies against policies that would combat childhood obesity is not a social choice. A company that aggressively markets empty calories to children is not a social choice. It is time for TIAA-CREF to offer a real Social Choice to its investors by offering funds that do not include Coca-Cola.