Prevention vs. Pink Washing and Racing for a Cure

Pink WashingIt’s that time again when the world is awash in pink, the color of all things breast cancer. Like so many of you, I have people I love dearly who have been affected by breast cancer and I am in no way diminishing the importance of helping people get well and have support. This article deals with the dangerous practice of taking a serious condition and transforming it into a miracle of marketing dollars, which does much less good than purported. All of the pink products, parties, walks, runs and noise create a sense that much is being done to prevent the disease. When was the last time you saw the word “prevention” written in pink?

“Pink washing” is a term coined by an organization named Breast Cancer Action. Here is their explanation of their all-too-appropriate term, “Since its launch in 2002, Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink® campaign has called for transparency and accountability in breast cancer cause marketing. BCAction coined the term pink washing to describe a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”

This organization articulates well one of the areas of the “war on breast cancer” that I have a problem with.

Why not just support the pink campaigns, athletic events and products, recognize it being awareness to this disease and call it a day?

Am I missing the bigger points here that breast cancer kills about 40,000 women every year, that minority women are at greater risk of getting the disease and great numbers of men and women who live without insurance or in poverty do not have access to screenings, that they don’t get the same treatment as those higher up the economic ladder?

No, I’m not missing those points and it’s heartbreaking that these facts are still true after so many years of citing them. I’m standing for the possibility that some of this marketing-tsunami-group-spend can be spent on what matters.

And what matters in my humble opinion are safer products for everyone at affordable prices, not just obesogen-laden sick ones coated pink.

What matters is more spent on prevention at all levels of society and not just the outdated science that pushes low fat, low cholesterol at all costs, processed foods with labels that make people think they are healthy but still contain chemicals masquerading as food, (think trans fats, HFCS, fake sweeteners,) that lead to hormone disruption.

What matters is that even those living in poverty have access to fresh foods, not just bags of cheap chips and super sized, day-glo, sweetened beverages.

Companies make money on their pink products, lots of it.

Here is a great article by author Lea Goldman featured in Marie Claire in 2011 that parses the income, profits, mishandling and actual donating that went on while she was doing her research. In the book, Pink Ribbon Blues, Gayle Sulik, who is a medical sociologist, writes about the hidden costs of the pink ribbon as an industry, one in which breast cancer functions as a brand name with a pink ribbon logo. Based on historical and ethnographic research, analysis of awareness campaigns and advertisements, and hundreds of interviews, Pink Ribbon Blues shows that while millions walk, run, and purchase products for a cure, cancer rates continue to rise, industry thrives, and breast cancer is stigmatized anew for those who reject the pink ribbon model.”

Did you know that some companies don’t even tie their donation to sales of the pink washed product? Instead, they will use the product to generate goodwill toward their brand while making a pre-set donation. I wish I could have found numbers on who this works out for, but I smell a rat.

How about the Komen Race for The Cures? Doesn’t money go to research, education, health screening and treatment? Yes — and here are the numbers, according to Emily Michele writing for AlterNet.

  • 13% to health screening
  • 5.6 % for treatment
  • 10% to fundraising
  • 11.3% admin costs
  • 39.1 for public education

Wow that last number is big! And still there are no recommendations to eat cancer preventive foods, take vitamin D, or cut out sugar — known to feed cancer cells. They educate about prevention via mammography, aka early detection, which I’m not arguing with, but where’s the cure in Komen’s Race for the Cure? Lifestyle change and alternative and complementary practices can lead to curing those with cancer, yet I see no money allotted for those. Maybe we could get posters to put up on the office walls of Komen et al reminding them of the old saying about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of (their type of) cure.

Some good does come out of these pink campaigns, but more could be done to educate people about the environmental toxins, unhealthy food choices, releasing unhealthy emotions, and corporate responsibility. If a company jumps on the pink bandwagon it should be because they have a stake in our health the rest of the year as well, and prove that with their product offerings. If the government truly wants to support men and women in the fight against cancers of all kinds it should stop blocking access to the truth about chemicals in the food, water, and air we breathe.

Rates of breast cancer have not gone down since the advent of the “war on cancer,” and that tells me that we need more critical thinking and prevention and less pink marketing.

Here is a link from with 4 questions to ask yourself before investing in a pink coated product.

Awareness is a good thing. Let’s make sure we are bringing awareness to the things that matter.

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