Family doctors group loses members over Coca-Cola deal

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 | 5:01 p.m. CST; updated 8:10 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CHICAGO— Advice about soft drinks and health from one of the nation's largest doctors groups will soon be brought to you by Coke.

The American Academy of Family Physicians has prompted outcry and lost members over its new six-figure alliance with the Coca-Cola Co. The deal will fund educational materials about soft drinks for the academy's consumer health and wellness Web site,

Academy chief executive officer Douglas Henley said Wednesday that the deal won't influence the group's public health messages and the company will have no control over editorial content. He said the new online information will include research linking soft drinks with obesity and will focus on sugar-free alternatives.

But critics say the Coke deal will water down the advice.

"Coca-Cola, like other sodas, causes enormous suffering and premature death by increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, gout, and cavities," Harvard University nutrition expert Walter Willett said in an e-mail.

Willett said the academy "should be a loud critic of these products and practices, but by signing with Coke their voice has almost surely been muzzled."

Henry Blackburn, a University of Minnesota public health specialist, said the deal "will inevitably have a chilling effect on the focus of their message in regards to sweet drinks."

Coca-Cola spokeswoman Diana Garza Ciarlante said that kind of criticism "misses the point of the partnership which is to provide education based on sound science."

William Walker, public health officer for Contra Costa County near San Francisco, likened the alliance with ads decades ago in which physicians said mild cigarettes are safe.

Walker has been a member of the academy for 25 years but quit last week. He said 20 other doctors who work with his local medical practice also quit because of the Coke deal.

In an announcement last month, the academy, based in suburban Kansas City, Kan., said the new Coca-Cola-funded educational material will be posted online in January.

The idea is "to develop educational materials to help consumers make informed decisions so they can include the products they love in a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle," the academy's president-elect, Lori Heim, said at the time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics received similar criticism seven years ago when it allowed an infant formula maker's logo to appear on copies of that group's breast-feeding guide.

And the American Medical Association faced harsh reaction more than a decade ago with a plan to endorse Sunbeam appliances without testing them. Criticism forced the AMA to abandon that deal.

The Coke deal is not the only corporate alliance for the family physicians group. In 2005 it received funding from McDonald's for a fitness program. And its consumer Web site includes advertising for a variety of products, including deli meats and air freshener.

Henley said the Coke deal is worth six figures, but he and a Coca-Cola spokeswoman declined to elaborate.

In a protest letter to Henley, 22 health specialists and activists questioned the safety of artificial sweeteners and urged the academy to abandon the deal and speak out against sugary drinks "in the strongest language."

Henley said the academy regrets the resignations and hopes other members will not "rush to judgment" before seeing the new content.

Coca-Cola is among several corporate contributors to the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, a separate philanthropic group. These contributors include many drug companies, McDonald's, PepsiCo and a beef industry group. Henley said the academy is in talks with other foundation contributors to fund other materials for the group, but he declined to say which ones.


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Ray Shapiro November 4, 2009 | 7:04 p.m.

While my favorite cola is cold Pepsi Max, it does contain Aspartame, which unto itself has its own set of problems. So to does phosphoric acid and caffiene.
However since the days of Studio 54, I have never met a coke addict that I liked.

(Report Comment)
Jessica Badger November 5, 2009 | 4:28 p.m.

When it comes to weight management, there is absolutely nothing unique about the calories in beverages – or in any food or ingredient for that matter. It is simply a matter of balancing the calories we eat with the calories we burn. This is supported by a recent federally-funded study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which reaffirmed the importance of energy balance in both losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, singling out any one food, beverage or ingredient as a cause of diabetes is not scientifically supported. Like obesity, heart disease is a complex problem with no single cause and no single solution. According to the American Heart Association, the major risk factors for heart disease are increasing age, gender, heredity and race.

Further, a growing body of scientific research shows that the amount of phosphoric acid contained in some soft drinks does not adversely impact bone health. In fact, there is more phosphorous in milk, cheddar cheese and chicken than in soft drinks.

Finally, to suggest that beverages are a unique cause of dental caries or tooth erosion is overly simplistic. Oral health is determined by a variety of factors, including types of foods consumed, the length of time foods are retained in the mouth and the level of oral hygiene. We should all do our part to enhance oral health by brushing and flossing our teeth and making regular visits to the dentist.

For more information, please visit the American Beverage Association at


Jessica Badger
American Beverage Association

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro November 5, 2009 | 4:45 p.m.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Makes You Fat
High Fructose Corn Syrup is a leading driver behind the obesity epidemic. This site collects articles from various sources.
Unlike Sugar, High Fructose doesn't make you feel full. You can drink 3000 calories and still be hungry. 2. High Fructose can only be metabolized in your liver (sugar can be processed in any cell in your body). When a large dose hits the liver, it stores it as fat. 3. A Harvard study showed a correlation between High Fructose consumption and type II diabetes 4. The obesity levels spiked upward in the US around 1980. This corresponds to when Coke and Pepsi introduced high fructose into their products.

A local resident who owns no stock in the corn syrup industry.

(Report Comment)

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