UK: Diageo courts controversy with pregnancy health campaign
Diageo funds pregnancy campaign in the UK
Diageo is funding a programme to train 10,000 midwives in England and Wales to offer advice about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
The initiative has come about as a result of the UK government's Public Health Responsibility Deal, which gives industry the opportunity to fund health initiatives. It also follows cuts in government spending on public health advertisements.
The Department of Health said over the weekend that it hopes the programme will help more than 1m pregnant women over the coming three years. The precise value of Diageo's pledge has not been officially released but it is reported to be worth around GBP1m (US$1.6m).
However, the move has drawn criticism from public health advocates and medical organisations, including the British Medical Association (BMA), concerned at the involvement of the drinks industry in public health messaging.
The training programme, which is being run by the National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome - UK (NOFAS-UK), is aimed at enhancing midwives' ability to advise pregnant women about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
"Midwives are one of the most trusted sources of information and advice for pregnant women," said public health minister Anne Milton. "This pledge is a great example of how business can work with NHS staff to provide women with valuable information."
Currently, the Department of Health advises women not to drink at all during pregnancy, but, if they do, to limit this to one to two units, once or twice a week.
In particular, medical advice suggests women should not consume alcohol at all during the first trimester. However, government figures show that up to 66% of women in the UK continue to drink during pregnancy.
Diageo said that it feels "passionately" about the issue. Simon Litherland, managing director of Diageo Great Britain, said: "Educating midwives and mothers about the issues that can arise when drinking alcohol when pregnant or trying to conceive is hugely important as it will potentially save many babies from being born with foetal alcohol syndrome."
However, Don Shenker, chief executive of the UK alcohol charity, Alcohol Concern, said: "It is deeply worrying that alcohol education is being paid for by the drinks industry, as it is then unaccountable and not necessarily based on evidence or public health guidance."
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