Saturday, December 4, 2010

AAFP and Coca-Cola-- an Update

I have in the past blogged a bit about American Academy of Family Physicians taking big bucks from Coca-Cola to fund a consumer education website on nutrition and obesity prevention, for example:

I add for recent readers that while this blog is supposed to focus on pharmaceutical issues, the AAFP-Coke matter seemed pertinent as an example of how supposedly "professional" medical organizations are seduced by corporate money.

I made a strategic decision when I started blogging on this topic. I wanted to stress my ethical position (contrary to a rebuttal offered by AAFP leaders) that it did not matter what ended up on the consumer website in question. The conflict of interest existed as soon as AAFP took the money for that purpose. Even if the website contained material critical of sugary soft drinks (actually, I guess, high-fructose-corn-syrupy drinks, as the companies are too stingy to put actual sugar in them any more), there was still a COI that could not be rationalized away. For that reason I actually avoided putting in my posts any comments on the actual AAFP web content.

I was reminded of my omission by an excellent older post by Dr. Josh Freeman, family medicine chair at the U. of Kansas: Dr. Freeman in turn cites:

This is a blog by Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and author of Appetite for Profit, a study of the financial influence of the Big Food industry analogous to what we've been reading about Big Pharma. She does go to the AAFP website and reports on its supposedly unbiased content. Some of her main findings:
  • Messsages favorable to Coke--including how good caffeinated and artificially sweetened beverages are for you--appear throughout the AAFP website.
  • No surprise--while the credit given to Coke is for general program support only, the same sorts of messages appear almost verbatim on Coke's own website. Seems like Coke had more control over content than AAFP was letting on.
  • Just for extra fun, Simon lists the recent misdeeds of the Coca-Cola company on numerous fronts, asking whether a professional medical society really wants to be seen in such company.

The AAFP website is: When I logged on just now, a "Live Positively" logo appeared prominently at the top of the web page. When you click on that logo, it goes to the "Consumer Alliance Partnerships" page (AAFP manages to assume that somehow a "corporate alliance" is a "consumer alliance" as if Coca-Cola was some sort of non-profit charity) on which the full logo, "Live Positively--Coca-Cola" is shown. Why the key words "Coca-Cola" do not appear on the main page is an interesting, but very minor question.

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