by Marion Nestle
Oct 9 2009

Another sad partnership story: AAFP and Coca-Cola

On October 6, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) announced its new partnership with Coca-Cola.  What does AAFP get from this?  A grant “to develop consumer education content on beverages and sweeteners for”

The AAFP, says its president, looks forward to

working with The Coca-Cola Company, and other companies in the future, on the development of educational materials to teach consumers how to make the right choices and incorporate the products they love into a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Coca-Cola must be thrilled with this.  As its CEO explains in an op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, soft drinks are entirely benign and have nothing to do with obesity.  Obesity is due to lack of physical activity and eating too much of other foods, not Coke.  His view of the situation is entirely predictable.

But what about the AAFP?  Family practice doctors have been telling me for years that it is not unusual for them to see overweight kids and adults in their practices who consume 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day from soft drinks alone.  The first piece of advice to give any overweight person is to stop drinking soft drinks (or other sugary drinks).

This partnership places the AAFP in embarrassing conflict of interest.  I gather that members were not consulted.  They need to make their voices heard.  I hope AAFP members decide that no matter what Coke paid for this partnership, their loss of credibility is not worth the price.

Addendum: Here’s what a Chicago Tribune blogger has to say about this.

Further addendum, October 10: As noted in the comments, AAFP members were consulted, more or less.  Apparently, they decided Big Food was less of a problem than Big Pharm.  Really?  How about selling out to neither?

  • I will be amazed if this deal actually stands. I already know a few family doctors, who happen to live in the neighborhood, that have already tendered resignations from the organization because of the partnership announcement.

    Let’s hope the members will squelch the deal before it gets going. It just seems like the beverage industry is not paying attention and will likely build support for government actions (soda taxes, etc.) by doing things like this… time will tell I guess.

  • Cathy Richards

    I believe the American Dental Association and American Dietetic Association have similar arrangements with either a soft drink company or their lobbying groups.
    Haven’t checked for about 4 years. Could be wrong.

  • Anthro

    This “partnering” of what were once trusted organizations with the food industry has got to stop! Tell me how on earth Coke fits in with any responsible eating plan. Heck, I only have dessert on my birthday and if everyone saved Coke for a special occasion, they’d be broke real soon, so their babble is extremely disingenuous and they need to be called out at every turn as you have done here. Many thanks for your strong voice above the din of greed and compromise.

  • AB

    AAFP actually stands for American *Academy* of Family Physicians (not “association”), for anybody trying to look them up.

  • I say, let the AAFP take Coke’s money, then come out with a statement saying that NO amount of coke or sugar sweetened beverages can be incorporated into a healthy diet! I don’t think Coke could sue them for that, since Coke paid them to educate us, not lie to us!

  • This seems like some kind of joke, perfect for that movie Idiocracy.
    I don’t know how many people say to me ALL the time. I stopped drinking soda and I lost 10lbs. Zero ethics in this partnership…

  • Cheryl

    All I can say is OUTRAGE! I agree with Anthro ~ this has got to stop! It’s all about the money, just like everything else! I have done my research the last several years and there is a LOT more of this going on than anyone realizes! People who try to stop these things are threatened, harassed, put in jail , have their computers seized and businesses taken away, etc!

  • My life partner is a family doc and has been very involved in the member leadership of the AAFP, including being on the board of directors when he was a resident. He is pretty appalled but states that the COD (representatives from each state chosen by the general membership) approved this after a long fight with a lot of opposition. As awful as it is, they were responding to another ethical dilemma: they are trying to sever some of their dependence on Big Pharma and its influence on American medicine.

  • AB

    So, we go from Big Pharma to Coke? This is embarrassing. The wrong people have gotten into powerful positions. There is no way Coke can be trusted to give sound nutritional advice. This is just a perverse marketing move.

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  • Next thing you know the candy companies will lobby to move daylight savings time until after Halloween! Good things our kids know better when it comes to sugar, tobacco, and alcohol. After all, they’re being taught by Coke, Phillip Morris, and Budweiser.

    Consume responsibly!

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  • Sadly, it’s always about the money.

    I watched an interview Dr. Bill Frist by Bill Maher. It took all Maher’s energy and interviewing skills to coax out of the heart surgeon that food is what’s killing Americans. Between politics and money, the average Joe really doesn’t have a fighting chance.

    Hopefully, people like you will help in making a difference.

    Thanks for all that you do.

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  • Daniel K. Ithaca, NY

    If you are appalled by this decision, let them know.

    Contact AAFP web form:

    As an organization of Physicians who are to protect the health and well-being of our children I find it appalling, that you are willing to compromise your purported mission of promoting health while giving your stamp of approval to a soda, aka “Liquid Candy” company that produces beverages that contain nothing healthy and play a great role in promoting obesity, diabetes, heart disease (through the previous 2 and increasing Triglycerides). Please wake up and get back to the FIRST, DO NO HARM part of your mission. This decision is great for the corporation, but sad for those who look to you for guidance.

  • Emily

    Hi Marion, just wanted to say that I really enjoy your blog posts! They point out news issues that I haven’t come across otherwise, especially this one about the Coca-Cola partnership with AAFP, as well as about their other partnerships, like with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists. These are definitely issues that need to be to broadcast more to the general public. I was really surprised to read the CEO’s op-ed in light of this partnership, as well as some of the comments from readers, who generally seemed to support Mr. Kent’s argument. In light of the partnership though, we really have to wonder what kind of effort Coca-Cola would make in an effort that would lead to the decline of purchases of their product? We would not partner with cigarette companies to help individuals reach a “healthy level” of cigarette usage… Anyway, thanks again for your posts and giving us your insights into current news issues.

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  • Suzanne

    Although a member of the AAFP since 1990, I have not always agreed with the methods the organization chose to balance its budget. However, they seemed to advocate for the needs of the patients, and their journal articles were well written, so I remained a member. In such a large organization, change often happens slowly and deliberately, so I was able to overlook their dependence on pharmaceutical advertising, articles which sometimes pushed those pharmaceuticals, and the slow pace at which they promoted healthy eating among other things. The Coca-cola contract is impossible to overlook, so I hope other AAFP members will join me in resigning their membership. The $365 yearly dues could be put to better use in a non-profit organization that promotes the benefits of eating local and organic food.
    -a card carrying coop member and family physician

  • Larry Rues MD

    Having worked with so many Academy Execs and projects over the years, and after hearing the debate at the recent Congress of Delegates, I urge members and others to withhold condemnation until the benefits of the partnership become clearer.The Academy was and is a moral organization -trying to do the best it can with less than what is needed.Premature condemnation now -of all times will hurt FPs, our pts and the direction of HC reform.While this Coke partnership should be quetioned, I suspect we will not be disappointed in the end.

  • Karim

    Good article

  • Sarah

    I do not think we will ever live in a society where it will actually be possible to tell people what to eat and have them follow it. Just like cigarette smoking was once deemed as an OK activity, it is now well known that smoking is directly related to an increased risk of lung cancer. Unfortunately, (and I apologize if I offend anyone, this is not meant to be offensive), people who usually drink soda usually do not have a healthy diet all around, making it possible for soda companies to argue that it is not their actual product that is causing American obesity, rather it is the environment that leads to obesity- unhealthy food and lack of exercise. I personally do think that soda is a HUGE factor in why our nation is obese- people do not realize how many calories they are drinking. Maybe it is the fact that people are not educated about reading food labels and seeing that an extra 200 or more calories per day does result in significant weight gain over time. As far as Coca- Cola and AAFP teaming up, AAFP really should reconsider what this is doing for their image. Are they going to prove that soda doesn’t make people overweight? Good luck with that study. Unfortunately, it is impossible for mutual exclusivity to exist, making it near impossible to point the finger of blame, however, we all know deep down inside that soda does make us fat due to extra sugar calories, and the AAFP should not be accepting funds from Coca-Cola if they truly believe in public health and preventative medicine.

    Check out the NY times article on taxing soda…

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  • Andy Pasternak

    This isn’t the first time this has happened with the AAFP. Interestingly, the AAFP research network has been doing a study that is focusing on improving physical and emotion health in patients that been funded by Pepsi-Co’s foundation. Having been a part of the study, I can tell you that the study hasn’t had ANY intervention from pepsi-co and I’ve been completely free to tell patients what I want (i.e-stay away from soft drinks and eat whole foods). I’ll be the first to admit, it is kind of an evil partnership in a way, but the are funding a study that would otherwise not be done.

  • Tim Roberts, Family Physician

    Wow. My state branch, Oregon Academy Family Practice, just today sent us a memo that this alliance had happened! I am shocked and saddened. I spend a great deal of my day talking about proper diet choices. I feel this partnership will greatly help to undermine the image of the AAFP .

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