Pimping Their Patients
California is hardly the only state that has identified sweetened sodas as a major contributing factor to the growing obesity epidemic among children. Now, as the state considers legislation that would tax sweetened sodas, the American Academy of Family Physicians has weighed in a most surprising way. If you think they support the legislation, you'd be wrong. Instead, in what is one of the most outrageous and corrupt practices in medicine, the AAFP has just created "an alliance" with Coca Cola, describing their product as just another snack. For that partnership , according to a health policy person at AAFP, they received a grant somewhere in six figures.
It was hardly worth it.
Reaction from doctors has been swift and dramatic. Standing outside the Contra Costa County hospital in Northern California, Dr. William Walker, the county's health officer, and a group white-coated group of other physicians, pointed their thumbs downward as Walker issued a strong condemnation of the AAFP for undermining the efforts of family physicians to improve the health of their patients. "http://cchealth.org/groups/health_services/aafp_protest.php
Very simply, he described the Orwellian nature of Coca Cola's new partnership to promote health:
"My name is Dr. William Walker. I'm the Director of Contra Costa Health Services, the Health Officer for the County and until this month a 25-year member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
I'm here today to announce my resignation from the organization and to explain why the doctors who are here with me today and I feel so strongly about recent action by the organization that we are publicly acting.
Recently the American Academy of Family Physicians announced an alliance with the Coca Cola Company to promote healthy eating. I am appalled and ashamed of this partnership between Coca-Cola and the American Academy of Family Physicians. How can any organization that claims to promote public health join forces with a company that promotes products that put our children at risk for obesity, heart disease and early death. "
He then went on to remind the public of the shameful cover doctors had provided for the tobacco industry:
"Some of you may remember the 1940s and 50s when physicians were used on billboards and magazine ads to promote tobacco smoking. Then came the Surgeon General's warning that smoking was harmful to your health. We discovered that the tobacco industry was deceiving us into thinking that smoking was safe. In response, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association all stepped up to take leadership roles in alerting the public that cigarettes and secondhand smoke contain cancer-causing products.
These respectable organizations joined our efforts at the local level to protect our residents. They worked side by side with us for years helping City Councils pass ordinances and communities learn about the problem....
Sadly, the AAFP has done the opposite. The AAFP is supposed to be an organization that works to protect the health of children not put them at risk. Their decision to take soda money is all the more unconscionable because, unlike doctors in the 40s, they well know the negative health impact of soda. There is no shortage of documentation that soda is a major contributor to our nation's obesity epidemic.
With the epidemic of obesity we are seeing an increase in risks for heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. According to a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 41% of young children aged 2 to 11 drink at least one soda or sugar-sweetened beverage per day .
Even more alarming, the study found 62% of older children youths aged 12 to 17 drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverage per day --the same as consuming an amazing 39 pounds of sugar each year in sugar-sweetened beverages alone.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that if current trends continue, as many as 1 out of every 5 children today will grow up with type II diabetes. And a recent report shows a 33 percent rise in obesity rates statewide and the reported economic impact of being overweight, obese and physically inactive has nearly doubled, now costing California as a whole an estimated $41 billion a year -- $1.3 in Contra Costa alone in health care costs.
Let me be clear about something: as disappointed as I am with the American Academy of Family Physicians for being duped into thinking that Coca Cola wants to help promote health, the real problem here is our children are being put at risk."
Earlier, on October 22, nutrition advocates had condemned the "conflict of interest" such an alliance represented. "Yesterday, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest said the AAFP should urge patients to avoid sweetened soft drinks, which "promote obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and other health problems."
Marion Nestle, PhD, a food policy researcher at New York University, called the partnership an "embarrassing conflict of interest. I hope AAFP members decide that no matter what Coke paid for this partnership, their loss of credibility is not worth the price," she wrote on her blog, Foodpolitics.com.
Kelly Brownell, PhD, of Yale, called the AAFP's acceptance of the grant money "disheartening."
"There is no question that products made by the soft drink companies contribute to diseases that family physicians then have to treat, often without much success," Brownell said. "Taking the money to develop guidelines for healthy eating is beyond imagination."
Gradually, word is getting out about this so-called alliance. Although the shocking collapse of a part of the Bay Bridge prevented the San Francisco media from covering Dr. Walker's press conference, Facebook and Twitter have spread the news of this unholy alliance.
Now it's time for mainstream news to dig into this story, embarrass the family physicians' organization for its crass acceptance of money from Coca Cola, and for even more doctors to resign their membership. In the end, the AAFP will realize that no amount of money was worth undermining their credibility and reputation.