March 19th, 2010
Total Sellout: American Academy of Family Physicians Lets Coca-Cola Sponsor Health Advice
By David Gutierrez
The American Academy of Family Physicians has come under fire for a controversial decision to partner with the Coca-Cola Company in a new public outreach campaign about the health risks of soda consumption.
“Coca-Cola, like other sodas, causes enormous suffering and premature death by increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, gout, and cavities,” said Walter Willett of Harvard University. “[The academy] should be a loud critic of these products and practices, but by signing with Coke their voice has almost surely been muzzled.”
The academy claims that its health message will not be compromised by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from Coca-Cola. However, it has also stated that a goal of the program is “to develop educational materials to help consumers make informed decisions so they can include the products they love in a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.”
Dr. William Walker, a health officer for Contra Costa County, Calif., said that the partnership is reminiscent of old advertisements in which doctors endorsed the safety of mild cigarettes. Although he had been a member of the academy for 25 years, he and 20 other doctors in his practice recently resigned in protest of the deal.
According to academy chief executive officer Douglas Henley, Coca-Cola’s money will help fund a Web site containing information on the connection between soft drinks and obesity, and promoting sugar-free beverages.
Twenty-two health specialists and consumer advocates have responded with a letter challenging the endorsement of artificial sweeteners as safe, and asking the academy to condemn sugary drinks “in the strongest language.”
Alliances between medical associations and corporations promoting unhealthy products are not as uncommon as some might believe. In 2005, the American Academy of Family Physicians partnered with McDonald’s to produce a fitness program. Its Web site also carries advertisements for deli meat and other commercial products. The American Academy of Pediatrics drew criticism in 2002 for allowing an infant formula company to advertise on breast feeding materials, and prior to that the American Medical Association stirred up anger by agreeing to endorse Sunbeam home appliances without even testing them.