What do family medicine and Coca-Cola have in common?
In theory, this program seeks "to develop robust new programs and educational materials" to help patients and health care providers make "better choices... to achieve a healthy lifestyle."
According to its Consumer Alliance Web site, the Academy recognizes the "significant influence" that corporations have over consumer choices in seeking to make decisions about diet and other health behaviors.
The chief scientific and regulatory officer of the Coca-Cola Company stated that "[o]ur partnership [with AAFP and FamilyDoctor.org] will help provide Americans with credible information on beverages and enable consumers to make informed decisions about what they drink based on individual need."
It is hard for me, as a family physician, to see the "individual need" to drink high fructose corn syrup.
This might be an individual desire. It might be an individual choice. But there is no "need" here.
The Academy proudly presents its "Sweetener Education Program" using language eerily similar to Coca-Cola's: "to help consumers make informed decisions about certain natural and artificial sweeteners."
Contrary to what Coke and the AAFP contend, the "informed decision" seems pretty straightforward.
According to a study by the University of North Carolina in 2004, high fructose corn syrup alters the body metabolism in such a way as to increase weight relative to other sugars.
Based on this type of evidence, the American Heart Association put out a statement in September noting that intake of all types of sugars has increased dramatically over the past decade. Consumption is 22 teaspoons per day on average, and a whopping 34 teaspoons per day among adolescents.
For adolescents, that's 170 grams -- 6 ounces -- or about ¾ of a cup! Can you imagine sitting down and eating, teaspoon by teaspoon, all that sugar?
The AHA recommends that calories from sugar intake by Americans be cut down by 70 percent. In addition to these studies, however, there is the very real epidemic of overweight and obesity in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of American adults are overweight, one-third are obese, and 6 percent are very obese.
The CDC has an astounding graphic depicting state-by-state and year-by-year how overweight and obesity have increased over the past decade. Indeed, excess weight is now the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, responsible for approximately 300,000 deaths -- or 17 percent of all deaths.
In this context, I am extremely disappointed in the American Academy of Family Physician's decision to accept funding from Coca-Cola to help patients "make informed decisions... about sweeteners."
As if there were a decision to make.
Americans must cut down on sugar intake, especially high fructose corn syrup sweeteners found in soft drinks. I am a family physician and counsel my patients daily about diet, exercise and weight management. My Academy's decision to partner with Coca-Cola sends exactly the wrong message to my patients at exactly the wrong time.