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Doctors Resign from American Academy of Family Physicians over Coca-Cola Alliance

Jerry LaMartina
Kansas City Business Journal
October 30, 2009

A family physician near San Francisco is encouraging members of the American Academy of Family Physicians to resign in protest of the organization’s alliance with The Coca-Cola Co. to educate consumers about how Coca-Cola’s products fit into a healthful lifestyle.

Dr. William Walker, director of Contra Costa Health Services in Martinez, said in an interview Friday that he had resigned from the AAFP “with great sorrow.” He said 10 to 20 other physicians, all affiliated with Contra Costa Health, also have quit the association.

“I resigned in protest of (AAFP’s) judgment in this time of epidemic obesity,” Walker said. “Our public health department has been waging a battle against pediatric obesity.”

Walker said he is encouraging other physicians to resign from the AAFP in hopes that enough will do so to prompt the organization to dissolve its alliance with Coca-Cola, enabling the physicians to rejoin AAFP in good conscience. Word of the protest is spreading throughout California, he said.

AAFP announced its alliance with Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) on Oct. 6 and said the program was intended to enable corporate partners to work with the organization “to educate consumers about the role their products can play in a healthy, active lifestyle.” Coca-Cola provided “strong, six-figure revenue” through a one-year contract for the alliance to develop consumer education content about beverages and sweeteners for the AAFP’s consumer health and wellness Web site, Dr. Lori Heim, the AAFP’s president-elect, said at the time.

“I am appalled and ashamed of the partnership between Coca-Cola and the American Academy of Family Physicians,” Walker said in a release. “How can any organization that claims to promote public health join forces with a company that promotes products that sicken our children?”

Dr. Douglas Henley, the AAFP’s CEO, said Friday that the organization is “disappointed when any member resigns for any reason” but that the AAFP disagrees with Walker’s views about the alliance with Coca-Cola.

“Our board and organization view the relationship with Coca-Cola as an opportunity to provide better information to consumers about choices they make every day about food and beverages.”

In his release, Walker cited studies that show consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks is directly linked to higher levels of overweight and obesity.

“Having the soda industry create materials about making the right choices is like having the fox guard the hen house,” Walker said in the release. “This is reminiscent of when the tobacco industry enlisted doctors to endorse cigarette brands as ‘mild.’”


 

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