Treatments

Family Doctors Sign Educational Deal With Coca-Cola

When health questions crop up, the first resource for answers is often the family doctor. But if eating right is on your mind, how would you feel if the doctor's professional society is taking money from the soft-drink industry?

Coca-Cola cans. i i

Should Coke pay your family doctor to tell you what to drink? Justin Sullivan/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty
Coca-Cola cans.

Should Coke pay your family doctor to tell you what to drink?

Justin Sullivan/Getty

The American Academy of Family Physicians just inked a controversial deal with Coca-Cola to develop educational material for consumers on the beverages that have made the company a mint.

It's the first corporate alliance for AAFP. President Dr. Lori Heim wouldn't disclose the exact amount involved but said the medical group would receive an amount "in the strong six figures."

For the money, the doctors' group will provide info on how people can "incorporate sweetened, unsweetened and artificially sweetened beverages into a healthy lifestyle," Heim said.

Is that the right role for doctors? Nutrition guru Marion Nestle from New York Universtiy and author of "What To Eat," blasted the pact on her blog, calling it "an embarrassing conflict of interest."

Nestle added:

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).

Heim said obesity is more complex and that "there's no one evil out there." Sure, she said, some people make "the wrong choices" on drinks. "But I have plenty of patients that even if they gave up sweetened beverages, it's what their forks are carrying that's the bigger problem," Heim said.

Coke's CEO Muhtar Kent sounded a similar note in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, saying soda taxes written by Coke's CEO. "Obesity is a serious problem," he wrote. "But are soft drinks the cause? I would submit to you that they are no more so than some other products — and a lot less than many, many others." Kent suggests that Americans need more exercise, not less soda.

Heim defended the AAFP corporate partnership and said the group took care to avoid a debacle like the American Medical Association's ill-fated licensing pact of consumer products with Sunbeam a decade ago. AAFP, she said, will have full editorial control, won't endorse any products and will keep its name off the educational material. You'll be able to judge for yourself sometime early next year when the stuff appears on the Web site familydoctor.org.

Heim said another corporate partnership is in the works, but wouldn't tip her hand. Care to guess?

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly identified the doctor group involved as the American Association of Family Physicians instead of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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