Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians Prostitute Their Integrity by Accepting Sugar-Laden Soft Drink Money

Doctors are Helping to Market Soda to America's Children

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has entered into a corporate partnership with the Coca-Cola Company, in which Coca-Cola is providing money to AAFP in return for public recognition, improvement of its public image, distraction of public attention away from the role of Coca-Cola's products in the obesity epidemic, a lucrative marketing opportunity for Coke, and ultimately, an increase in its bottom line (Coke sales).

The large expenditure on the part of Coca-Cola is very well spent, and should be applauded vigorously by Coca-Cola stockholders. The corporation is already starting to reap the benefits of this rare marketing opportunity.

On the web site that is apparently being supported by Coca-Cola, the AAFP actually goes so far as cautioning people not to necessarily limit their consumption of soda: "Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as fruit juice, fruit drinks, regular soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk and sweetened iced tea can add lots of sugar and calories to your diet. But staying hydrated is important for good health."

This sounds like a statement coming right out of the mouth of Coca-Cola itself. The company repeatedly refers to its sugar-laden soft drinks as a way of meeting your "hydration needs."

It's quite interesting that the AAFP does not say: "Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as fruit juice, fruit drinks, regular soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk and sweetened iced tea can add lots of sugar and calories to your diet. To stay well-hydrated, make sure to drink plenty of water, as water keeps you hydrated without adding extra calories."

Whatever Coca-Cola paid for achieving the actual statement made by the AAFP instead of the alternative statement that is actually the appropriate public health statement was well worth the expenditure. To get the nation's body of family physicians to caution people against limiting their soda intake is more than money could ever be expected to buy. The Coca-Cola executives who made this deal with AAFP must be laughing in their accomplishments.

Coca-Cola does not deserve all the credit here. The AAFP also accepts marketing expenditures (i.e., corporate sponsorship money) from Pepsico as well. Coca-Cola is listed as a Grand Patron, while Pepsico contributes at the "Sustaining" level.

The American Academy of Family Physicians is not the only physician group that has prostituted itself and sold out its values and integrity by lending its good name to the marketing efforts of Coca-Cola.

In 2010, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) helped Coca-Cola market its products by participating in Coke's sponsorship of the 2010 Olympic Torch relay. Not to be outdone, she was joined by a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the president of the American Dietetic Association. These health professionals stood shoulder-to-shoulder with top Coca-Cola sales and marketing executives in this major effort to promote Coke internationally.

Do you think it is any coincidence that Coca-Cola found a way to choose prominent representatives from the AAP, AAFP, and ADA? Of course not. The obvious purpose of this marketing ploy was to associate the good name of these organizations with Coke and to help deter potential role of these organizations in calling for policies that would hurt Coke sales. This is sheer marketing brilliance!

More impressively and reeking with irony, the American Academy of Pediatrics accepted funding from Coca-Cola to sponsor its "Healthy Children" web site. On that site, the AAP states that the Coca-Cola Company is committed: "to better the health of children worldwide."

Whatever Coca-Cola contributed to the American Academy of Pediatrics to garner that statement and recognition as a leader in the child health movement internationally was nowhere near enough. This is blatant prostitution, where the AAP is essentially selling its site to the highest bidder. Do you want to be recognized as a leader in children's health internationally? Simply pay off the AAP. Never mind the fact that you market a product which is a major contributor toward childhood obesity.

And never mind the fact that it was alleged that your company was selling products with high levels of pesticides to rural villagers in India. According to Source Watch: "In August 2003, the Centre for Science and Environment had announced that a dozen drinks, produced by both Coca-Cola and Pepsi, contained unacceptably high levels of pesticides. However, if the formation of the advisory committee was designed to deflect attention, it was of little help when two days after its first meeting the Kerala high court ordered the company to stop extracting groundwater for its bottling plant near Plachimada village. The ruling followed a 608 day long protest by local villagers who complained the water extraction by Coca-Cola was so great it was drying their rice paddies out and killing their coconut palms."

Moreover, the very company that the AAP describes as an international leader in children's health lobbied vigorously against legislation that would have improved school nutrition in Connecticut.

According to Source Watch: "Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell vetoed what would have been the nation's strongest school-based nutrition law in June 2005, a bill that would have allowed only water, juice, and milk to be sold during the school day, K-12. In 2004, advocates had attempted to set nutrition guidelines on food and beverages, but lobbying by Coke and PepsiCo gutted the law. Coke hired Patrick Sullivan of Sullivan & LeShane to lobby on its behalf. The political struggle included an eight-hour House debate in which lawmakers engaged in stall tactics and delayed the process by adding unrelated amendments. Coke lobbyists also shared data regarding school income from soda sales with lawmakers behind closed doors so that nutrition advocates could not refute the information. Coke also delivered a well-stocked cooler to the Democratic caucus room just before the House was expected to vote on the bill."

And this is the company that the AAP tells us is an international leader in the protection of children's health. These physicians should be completely ashamed of themselves.

Rosenberg and I explained, in a 2009 article in Tobacco Control, how corporate sponsorship plays a critical role in marketing by enhancing the public image of the company, which enhances its bottom line -- product sales: "Through its corporate sponsorship, a ... company may be able to create good will among the public ... it may help put a “human” face on the corporation and point out its contributions to the community, taking the focus away from damage caused by its products." In turn, this helps the company stave off policy changes that would improve the public's health by reducing the sale of its unhealthy products.

By accepting these sponsorships from the leading manufacturers of sugar-laden soft drinks that are contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic, by playing a role in the marketing of these products, and by actively promoting these companies as international leaders in children's health, the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics are butchering the Hippocratic Oath that all of its physician members took. Rather than "doing no harm," these sponsorships are doing tremendous harm to the protection of the public's health by helping these massive corporations market their unhealthy products.

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