Last month another brick in the stalwart battered wall of scientific and medical integrity in America was regretfully removed. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) signed a sponsorship deal with the Coca Cola Company to promote Coke’s products, more or less:
The Consumer Alliance is a program that allows corporate partners like The Coca-Cola Company to work with the AAFP to educate consumers about the role their products can play in a healthy, active lifestyle.
What exact role do sugar laden beverages such as Coca Cola, Vitamin Water, and others play in a healthy lifestyle?
None. You don’t need an educational program to figure that one out. True, a soda pop here and there won’t kill anybody, but you don’t need the Coca Cola company to tell you that. And your physician should be telling you to cut down on your consumption, not explain how to fit a six pack into your busy schedule.
The exact 6 figure sum paid to the AAFP was undisclosed. It was, at most, $999,999, but likely much less, and puts a $10 price tag on each of AAFP 95,000 members. That’s a good deal for Coke, but for the doctors it doesn’t sound so great.
So why is this deal, just like Coke’s sponsorship of the American Dietetic Association, so infuriating?
Because the people at Coca Cola are so…nice.
Yes. on a personal level, Coke’s execs are lovely, personable, and amicable. So are the leaders of McDonald’s, Mars, and the rest of the junk food industry. But their companies have a slight image problem. It seems that the public has caught on to the fact that they are selling us crap, which in turn is making us sick. That nagging public concern is bad for business.
So all these amenable execs, which get paid handsomely because they are also very sharp business people, figured out a solution. —> Lets convince the public that we are not selling crap. Or not too much of it. And the little that we do is “fine in moderation”.
—> Better yet, lets find people who are the most trustworthy in consumers’ eyes, and have them tell our story. Enter the funding strapped dietitian organization and the AAFP. These organizations get to fill their coffers with much needed funds, and in turn acknowledge their newly found industry buddies.
Here’s what AAFP CEO Dr. Douglas Henley says:
…the deal won’t influence the group’s public health messages, [Coke] will have no control over editorial content. read more…
We STRONGLY DISAGREE.
It’s a question of human psychology more than anything else. On a personal level, once you get to know someone, talk with them, and then take lots of money from them, you are no longer objective. Your behavior changes because you don’t want to be rude towards your benefactor.
On an organizational scale, it’s not different at all. As Harvard Nutrition Professor Dr. Walter Willet said:
“Coca-Cola, like other sodas, causes enormous suffering and premature death by increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, gout, and cavities. [The AAFP] should be a loud critic of these products and practices, but by signing with Coke their voice has almost surely been muzzled.”
Thankfully, a few brave physicians from Northern California agree, and about 20 of them have decided to quit the AAFP in protest.
What you need to know:
Unfortunately for us consumers, this is not the first or last case of companies swaying scientists into their camps. The next time you read about a scientific study and its results, ask yourself who funded it. If industry is behind the numbers, there’s a 400-800% increase in the likelihood that the results are favorable to the funder.
What to do at the supermarket:
While abstaining from soft drinks may be too hard for some people, try to gradually reduce your dependence on soft drinks. By switching to tap water, a family of 4 can save $500 a year and 10-15 lbs. of body weight per person.
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