The Health Ministry intends to send two senior officials to a press conference
next week that will launch a month-long, NIS 2 million campaign to encourage
proper oral hygiene.
The campaign, which officially enjoys “the
encouragement of the Health Ministry,” is being sponsored by the Oral-B
dental-products company and by the for-profit Smile dental subsidiary of Clalit
Oral-B and Smile approached Yair Amikam, the ministry’s
deputy director-general for information, and Dr. Shlomo Zusman, director of the
dental health department, for approval of the “dental health
The campaign will appear via media and educational
Amikam and Zusman will be non-speaking guests at the press
conference, which is set to take place at the Beit Sokolov journalists’ center
in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning.
The ministry’s deputy spokeswoman said
that Amikam and Zusman approved the educational messages in the campaign, adding
that despite the fact that the ministry’s symbol will appear on the campaign’s
educational material, it did not spend funds or receive any money for its
involvement. They did not say if they endorsed the campaign in its
The two companies initiated the campaign “in the wake of
serious findings about the dental health in Israel, especially of children and
teens,” Amikam said. The campaign, he continued, will encourage “preventive
activity and education for dental and oral hygiene... The campaign will not be
run under the auspices of the ministry or with any other type of cooperation,
and this [statement] will appear on all the campaign material.”
concluded that the ministry’s “financial distress is well-known” and is the
reason why it cannot finance such campaigns itself. The Health Ministry – with
one of the highest budgets of any civilian ministry – has allocated an annual
budget of NIS 2.8m. for promoting better public health.
The ministry was
recently criticized in a Knesset committee by Amos Hausner, chairman of the
Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, for having misplaced priorities
and for not sponsoring public service announcements discouraging unhealthy
The spokeswoman said there was no connection between the
decision six weeks ago by Health Minister Yael German to halt mandatory
fluoridation of the country’s drinking water – a move roundly criticized by
public health experts – and the companies’ campaign to promote dental
“The campaign was planned by the companies long before the
decision,” the spokeswoman said.
After German’s decision, ministry
director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that he would have to come up with other
ways to get poorer children to brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste or
take fluoride drops.
The spokeswoman noted that the ministry has no
policy of seeking out private money for health campaigns due to its own meager
budget for the purpose.
Nine years ago, the Health and Education
Ministries allowed the Unilever corporation to finance a “unique” educational
program in the schools aimed at reducing child obesity and promoting
The directors-general of the two highest-spending civilian
ministries held a rare joint press conference at the Education Ministry’s
Jerusalem headquarters to describe the successes of their Tafur Alai (Suited to
Me) educational program launched two years before. They shared the stage with
the senior marketing official of Unilever Israel – the local branch of the
$50b. consortium, which donated NIS 2.5m. to the program.
Unilever’s local companies are companies that produce pretzels, cornflakes,
salty and sweet snacks, margarine, ice cream and powdered soup – none of which
are recommended as part of a healthy diet.
The program included computer
software and a looseleaf binder full of ideas for lessons and games; among the
foods presented on game cards titled “Foods That Are Tasty to Me” were generic
pretzels, an ice cream cone, margarine and cornflakes.
Asked in 2009 to
comment about the campaign, Prof. Elliot Berry – then-dean of the Hebrew
University- Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and an expert in nutrition –
said that “Teaching children healthful lifestyles – getting exercise, eating
fruits and vegetables rather than processed foods and not smoking – should be a
national policy of the two ministries and not left to a food company, however
noble its motives.
“If the ministries’ priorities were right,” Berry
said, “public health would get significant state funding.
This matter is
symptomatic of the third-rate status that health promotion has been given over
the years by the educational and health establishment.”
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