07/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Merck Engaged?

In this culture of victims and villains, of divisive thinking and accusatory finger pointing, we would be hard pressed to say that a pharmaceutical giant could actually be dispensing advice that's good for your health. After all, their bottom line rests on your being sick.

Merck & Company may be at the forefront of changing that policy. With the launch of their campaign "Merck Engage" they have created an entire website, separate from their company website to help people with diabetes live healthier lives.

I know; I know; I laughed, too when I heard this one. I watched their television ad and snickered "yeah, right." But then I went to the site, intent on exposing the ruse and trapping them in their deception. What I found was a website designed for people with health conditions and some sound advice on how to manage life with a health concern like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Merck Engage seems to be designed for that segment of the population who is sick, scared, not sure what to do to change habits...and for those living with or caring for those same people. It is written to be easily understood with advice that is neither overwhelming nor scary. It seems to have been built for people whose lifetime of bad habits has landed them in hot water in terms of their health. The advice offered, on topics ranging from eating, cooking and kitchen set-up to recipes to fitness tips and inspirational tips to engage people in healthier lifestyles is easy to understand, not radical and written in a way that draws you in.

But is it all rosy on the Merck Engage site? It depends on how you look at it. With lots of information on healthy eating (still too much animal food used for real health, in my view), activity, achieving a healthy weight, there is still a great deal of focus on regular screenings and other medical interventions. Now before you get your knickers in a twist and start screaming and yelling in comments about the need for regular check-ups and screenings once you have been diagnosed, I get it. Once you have been diagnosed, you need regular care until you can overcome...or at least effectively manage your own health.

But here's where I differ with Merck Engage. On a site that is so comprehensive, so compellingly simple in its explanations of how easy it is to adopt a healthy lifestyle, there is nothing about prevention of disease...the key element in living healthfully. Now I know they are a pharmaceutical giant and their bread and butter is based on treating illness with drugs, but on a website so clearly designed for living healthy, active lives, the omission of prevention is glaring and the biggest reminder that you are, in fact, on a website designed by a pharmaceutical giant. Once you are in need of their medications, then they are happy to help you deal with it, but prevention? As Jon Stewart says, "not so much."

The best article on the site is "Managing Diabetes through Good Nutrition" in which sound advice is dispensed with ease and smart simple tips, including an actual diagram of what a healthy dinner plate looks like (half the plate being veggies, one-quarter each reserved for carbohydrates and protein). Their advice to eat more vegetables could lead to bad news for Merck & Co. if people really did it. If people adopted a diet of whole grains, vegetables, lean protein and good quality fats, eliminating simple sugar, processed foods, most meat and meat products, more and more Type 2 diabetics would need less and less (if any) medication. A nearly completely preventable disease, Type 2 diabetes has become a profitable industry for pharmaceutical giants. While they give this good advice, they know all too well that many Americans prefer Paula Deen-style southern fried cooking and KFC to vegetables and health, so their business future is sound.

It seems to me that we live a real "Twilight Zone" existence when a pharmaceutical company has to talk us about healthy living. We have grown so attached to our childish lifestyle habits and ways of eating that are destroying us that the very people who are invested in illness have seen the need to attempt to stem the tide of the disastrous decline in our collective health.

Interestingly, the Merck Engage site is completely independent of their Merck & Co site. Nowhere on their corporate site could I find a link or even a reference to this new program, Merck Engage. And on the Merck Engage site, I found no link back to Merck & Co., which I find strange. Why not blow your horn a little, Merck? You proudly sponsor "Go Red for Women" on your site, but nary a mention of your initiative to help people live healthier lives.

I guess it's bad for business, but good for your karma and we could all use a little of that.