From the annual American Academy of Family Physicians Congress of Delegates, Boston
Under fiscal pressure to make ends meet without raising its dues, the American Academy of Family Physicians has inked a consumer alliance with the Coca-Cola Company. At a town hall meeting held the opening evening of the Congress of Delegates, AAFP President-Elect Dr. Lori J. Heim unveiled the deal to angry members: Under a 1-year contract, the beverage company will pay AAFP a “strong six-figure sum” (around $600,000, rumor has it) to provide consumer education materials on, you guessed it, beverage choices for the academy’s Web site. The aim is to provide evidence-based, health-related information about sweetened, unsweetened, and artificially sweetened beverages. No specific brand names are supposed to appear, and the AAFP will maintain 100% editorial control, Dr. Heim stressed.
“I have had patients who’ve gotten better when they quit drinking Dr Pepper.… The evidence on this is clear and consistent. The single biggest contributor to the obesity epidemic is sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Dr. Robert Rauner, president of the Nebraska Academy of Family Physicians. The AAFP’s “guilt by association could be a problem here,” he said adding that the tobacco companies have waged similar consumer education campaigns as a means of a makeover.
Several clearly frustrated members took to the mic on the congress floor to express their concern about the AAFP tarnishing its image, especially while the stakes are so high and given the academy’s strong push for a health care reform bill acceptable to family physicians and their patients.
Dr. Heim urged members to take a wait and see approach and reserve judgment until the materials are up on the site. “It may be something that you actually don’t find to be appalling,” she said to a room of collective laughter.
As Dr. Richard Cirello, a delegate from New Jersey said, “I have no objection to pursing this business approach; however, at a time when credibility is very important, let’s be honest. We’re not doing this to educate anybody. We’re doing this to create a revenue stream and apparently we need this revenue stream. If this is what we have to do to keep us whole and to keep the dues where they should be, well, we could put some lipstick on this pig and sell it.”