Dear The Heart Foundation, I’m Scared

As a fresh-faced, wide-eyed first year medical student, I used your website from day 1 to look up what the symptoms of a heart attack were.

As a senior medical student, I have used your clinical guidelines to learn the next steps in managing a patient presenting with chest pain.

As a future doctor, I know that I will be using your website again and again. This time, it will not only be for my benefit but for the benefit of my patients too.

But now,

As a daughter of older parents who were less fortunate to grow up educated about nutrition, physical activity and the concept of preventative medicine.

As an average Australian who cares about my own health and well-being.

As a future mother who will be going to pack her children’s school lunches.

Can I trust you?

Can I, along with the 1.57 million Australians who turn to you for advice, trust you?

Why am I asking you this question? Why don’t I trust that you are ‘dedicated to making a real difference to the heart health of Australians?’ as your website proudly displays?

It’s because I’m scared.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt all the other work that you do. I don’t mistrust the guidelines you put out telling me what to do for a patient with heart failure and so forth. I applaud your support for people with heart disease.

But I’m just having trouble trusting your nutritional advice and advocacy. Especially since nutrition plays a significant role in the development of chronic diseases, like heart disease.

In the past, you struck a deal with McDonald’s. Each tick was worth $300,000 per year. You started to endorse several meals, including one that contained 36 grams of sugar per serve.

Your heart ticks of approval were slapped across Uncle Toby’s Fruit Fix bars that were 71% sugar! Uncle Toby’s Oats Temptations had 34% sugar and Nestle’s Milo Breakfast cereal has 29.7% sugar! This is akin to a lung tick of approval on a packet of cigarettes!

Thankfully, once the public pressure was too much, you were forced to cancel the campaign and discontinue it. But then you started to endorse supermarket generic brands like Aldi for an undisclosed amount.

You proudly state on your website here that ‘up to 2.8 million Australians have looked for the Tick every day when shopping for food’. Yes, that included my Mum who as a migrant, has little health and English literacy. She relied on a little red tick to help her choose healthy foods. Yet, the majority of your healthy heart ticks were on processed junk. You didn’t proudly mention that on your website.

When I learnt that similar foundations over in America were being sponsored by drug companies and food industries, I actually defended you. Nah, that’s America for ya. The health policies here in Australia are much better.

But no, once again, you proved how the corporates have infiltrated your hearts and the hearts of millions of Australians.

I also heard about your Pharmaceutical Rounds. This is where you brought together representatives from 10 leading drug companies to discuss “advice for health professionals”. There are many examples in the U.S. where drug companies have utilised these opportunities to push their own agenda and interests.

I’ll tell you what. We do a similar thing at the hospitals. We do something called Morning Rounds. These Rounds are when we handover, communicate and discuss the patient and their reason(s) for being in hospital. The doctors, nurses and other allied health staff all have the patients and their families best interest at heart. Feelings that I don’t think are shared at your Pharm Rounds.

Photo by Romain V on Unsplash

I know you disembarked this in 2017, but I hear you still receive funding from the pharmaceutical companies. Three drug companies – Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Amgen – gave you $690,000 over three years. Regardless of how that money was spent, how much it represents the Foundation’s overall revenue, why are you accepting money from pharmaceutical companies?

Is there actually a possibility that a $2.07 million relationship means nothing at all? Even the most PG-rated sugar-daddy, sugar-baby relationship cost at least a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Also, congratulations on your $2.5 million per year relationship with the food industry! When’s the baby? Oh you already had it! The baby looks so much like a Sanitarium Weet-bix box that has your 5 star health ratings and the words ‘Cholesterol-Lowering’ on it. Claims that were made from a small study funded by Sanitarium itself.

photo from coles online

While Weet-bix is actually one of the better cereals out there, my relationship queries has been demonstrated clearly. Other previous sponsorships include Nestle-owned Uncle Tobys and Mackay Sugar Limited. Employees have worked for CSR, the sugar giant and sugar lobby group Sugar Australia (no surprise who owns Sugar Australia… CSR!)

And why wouldn’t corporates partner up with you? They have the ‘chance to increase sales’.

Again, I come back to the point that I don’t disagree with your support and advocacy for people with heart disease. But it’s confusing when you start helping food manufacturers promote their products for a targeted (read: trusting) audience. Even if it is deemed healthy, it speaks volumes about your integrity.

So can I trust you? Can I trust you to give legitimate nutritional advice to my parents, my families, my future patients and my future kids? I’m scared for them and for my self.

I want to trust you. But I’m scared.


By Karen (MBBS VI, PT)

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'm a certified personal trainer and medical student with one more year (finally!) of study until I'm a doctor. I believe in a preventative and holistic approach to medicine which means I love sharing my passion for fitness and nutrition with you guys! I hope that we all can strive to be a better version of ourselves everyday.

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