About a month ago, we noticed that some TV ads for the fast food chain Subway were sporting the prestigious logo of the American Heart Association (AHA). In particular, one ad implied Subway's food is uniquely helpful for weight loss. Since the AHA is a well-known and widely respected organization that promotes commonsense nutrition and balanced diets, we were surprised to see their apparent support of this type of advertising. So, we sent a letter to the AHA nutrition committee, and to their corporate communications office, requesting an explanation of their guidelines for use of their logo. So far, we haven't had a response.
Apparently we weren't the only ones curious about this advertising ploy. The New York Daily News ran a story about this same issue on Halloween. That story explained that the AHA certifies processed or packaged foods. Those that meet the AHA's guidelines in terms of fat and sodium content, for example, can carry the AHA logo. But the story quotes an AHA counsel as saying that the AHA doesn't "certify restaurant foods." Another group, Public Interest Watch, has also protested the way Subway posted the AHA heart and torch logo.
According to the Daily News, Subway donated several million dollars to support the AHA's annual five-kilometer Heart Walk. In fact, the ads even said this -- in quite small print. We have no problem with this sponsorship whatsoever and applaud Subway's support of such a worthy cause. Nor do we take issue with Subway's food.
What concerns us is the implicit suggestion that a particular brand of fast food aids in weight loss. Whether or not consumers gain or lose weight depends on the choices they make once inside a given restaurant -- not on the brand of the burger. And one can certainly make high-fat and high-calorie selections at Subway. In addition to the low-fat sandwiches Subway advertises, they also offer meatball subs that are substantially higher in fat and calories (the calorie counts range from 200 for a six-inch turkey breast deli sandwich with only six grams of fat to 500 calories for a six-inch meatball sub with twenty-two grams of fat). The information is on their website.
The AHA logo on a food product suggests the food meets certain criteria. It's virtually impossible for every food at a restaurant to meet heart-healthy criteria. The use of the AHA logo seems to suggest that all menu options at Subway do so. As such, for AHA to allow their well-known symbol to appear in such ads is misleading and should not continue.
Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health.