It’s the stuff of quintessential irony. Paradox. An absurdity so egregious it’s painful to type, let alone view on the screen. (There’s actual smoke rising from my keyboard….) We’re talking corporate “public health” sponsorships so ridiculous your eyes will fall out of your head. First, a show of hands. How many of you are familiar with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)? Sounds like a thoughtful, professional organization, yes? A group dedicated to noble and intelligent advocacy for good family health, no? Voices of expert reason, rational and practical medical authority, right? A group that would – with sound mind and sobriety – partner with a soda company for a nutrition-focused consumer education program??? Folks, I got my boots on today for a good old-fashioned butt kicking (blog style, that is). Pull up a chair. I’m just getting started.
Here’s the gist. The aforementioned Academy of Family Physicians recently partnered with The Coca-Cola Company  (peddler of Coke, Sprite, Fanta and tricked up sugar-, I mean vitaminwater and POWERADE), to help “educate consumers about the role their products can play in a healthy, active lifestyle.” Yes, do the double take…. Now sit with it. Is it burning your brain yet? (Just rest and take a breath whenever you need to.)
This truly pains me, but I’ll continue. Keep in mind that all the quotes are from the AAFP’s own website.
The high fructose corn syrup with caramel color beverage company has benevolently offered their financial assistance in creating “consumer education content on beverages and sweeteners for [the AAFP’s website] FamilyDoctor.org, an award-winning consumer health and wellness resource.” H-E-A-L-T-H resource – award-winning, no less? Oh, there’s more. The president-elect of the AAFP welcomes Coca-Cola’s partnership in “teach[ing] consumers how to make the right choices and incorporate the products they love into a balanced and healthy lifestyle.” R-I-G-H-T choices? O.K., let’s go for broke here. As for Coca-Cola’s self-congratulations, their talking head tells us the “partnership will help provide Americans with credible information on beverages and enable consumers to make informed decisions about what they drink based on individual need.” C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E? and N-E-E-D?!! (My keyboard is now a smoldering pile of dust.)
Where do you even begin with this farce? But wait – there’s more.
The AAFP’s partnership with the evil empire is the first of what they hope to be many productive collaborations with corporate sponsors. (Gee, nothing like getting off to a stellar start!) It’s part of the organization’s new “Consumer Alliance,” a division created from the brilliant realization “that consumer products companies have significant influence over consumer health.” (Gee, so let’s just give them more influence???) The AAFP’s Consumer Alliance “strategy” then is to “partner with companies who demonstrate good corporate stewardship and a strategic focus on consumer health.” (After all, how can you read that description and not think soda?)
And before you think this is a random, lucky feather in Coca-Cola’s hat, let’s pull another debased acronym out of the hat of shame. Another show of hands. This time it’s the American Dietetic Association  (ADA), the “world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals” and partner with Coca-Cola. (Proving yet again that big isn’t always better…) With their impressive headcount, they’re “committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.” Unlike the AAFP (mere greenhorns in the corporate sponsorship realm), these guys are impressively entrenched in big corporate dollars. Let’s take a look at a few of the ADA’s sponsors . We have Pepsico, National Dairy Council, Mars, Inc. (Anyone for a Snickers?), Kellogg’s, General Mills, and, oh yes, Truvia . (Very clever, Cargill, we see you hiding behind that stevia leaf.) Oh, now there’s a impressive troupe – just the kind of folks you trust to offer solid nutritional advice. They all have a real stake in helping Americans make good nutritional choices, eh?
But enough about Coca-Cola and the corporate giants themselves. After all, it’s not really about these guys. Companies that sell crap will always exist because they have a right to and because there will always be people ignorant or self-destructive enough to keep them in business. The real outrage here is the willingness of medical organizations (and public schools (though this is changing ), and hunger relief charities , and “life-changing”, weight-loss reality shows ) to surrender even the appearance of objectivity and basic intelligence for a few dollars that – pardon me – don’t seem to be making any difference whatsoever in the American public’s health. It defies all common sense to allow soda and candy bar companies to be credible partners in any discussion of nutrition and wellness. For these medical “experts,” I’d say, you’re doing more than just taking their money. For the love, they offer it for a reason! They pay up to buy legitimacy and the implicit endorsement of their products that these visible partnerships offer. These companies do it to boost their public image and show that their products have an expert-sanctioned place in the American diet. How much are these medical associations really benefiting from being played so badly? Seriously, if the AAFP wants to add some content to their FamilyDoctor.org website, how much does it really cost to hire competent people to put together legitimate research for a public audience? Maybe the problem isn’t money as much as money management? Sponsorships from smaller, more truly health-conscious companies wouldn’t have cut it? They needed so much money for these modest projects that they had to go begging to the monstrosities of corporate America?
Finally, there’s the argument that these organizations don’t have the money for true visibility on their own. They can’t compete with the omnipresent junk food ads put out by the corporate giants that sell the stuff. Gee, so what’s their answer? Team up with these same seedy players so you can buy your ad space (wherever that might be)! The fact is, you’ve already lost the argument. You’ve rescinded the right to call a spade a spade and soda the worthless horsesh– that it is. What’s the point in even making an argument then? The informed public doesn’t have any faith in you, and the ignorant ones who are looking for an excuse to continue their morning Coke habit now have it. You’ve said that soda can be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet, and that’s all these people need to hear. Trust me, they don’t bother listening to the rest of the message, and they’re certainly not going to scour your organization’s website to look for any other reason to abstain. The AAFP’s FamilyDoctor.org can boast all it wants about being the “only consumer health Web site owned and operated by a professional medical association….” Sorry, AAFP, where I come from bunk is bunk, however you spin it. And selling out is selling out, however you justify your deal with the devil in a red can.
I’ve said my piece. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.