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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Unsavory Alliances

An old Japanese proverb says "when the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends." The same could certainly be said about organizations and corporations - who we choose to align with reflects our own integrity and the level of commitment we have to our purpose, above and beyond convenience or financial gain. Building a community, an organization, or a corporation is about building trust and bringing our vision to a wider audience. But if we are not honestly serving the common good, we may choose an unsavory alliance that exposes our truth.

As Norwegian economist Eivind Reiten once said "Credibility takes years to build, but a few hours to destroy." Perhaps the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) needs to listen up. The AAFP "is the national association of family doctors. It is one of the largest national medical organizations, with more than 94,600 members in 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam." Among their stated purposes are: "To provide responsible advocacy for and education of patients and the public in all health-related matters" and "To promote and maintain high standards among physicians who practice Family Medicine." Where exactly an alliance with one of the world's greatest offenders to public health, Coca-Cola, fits into this purpose is beyond comprehension. Seriously, folks. It is almost too unsavory to speak of, to write of, even to think. But, alas, here it is. Just this week, The American Academy of Family Physicians has signed a six-figure alliance with the Coca-Cola Company.

Talk about integrity. Putting aside the AAFP's CEO claiming that "the deal won't influence the group's public health messages", let's speak for a moment about credibility. Can any family physician who is a member of the AAFP honestly believe that being in the back pocket of Coca-Cola sends a positive message about their commitment to health and well-being? Soda consumption has been linked to osteoporosis (Mayo Clinic), obesity (UCLA), and diabetes (American Diabetes Association), among other ills. Drinking just one can of soda a day can increase a woman's likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 85 percent, not a statistic health professionals should be overlooking. As Harvard University epidemiologist and nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett told the Associated Press "Coca-Cola, like other sodas, causes enormous suffering and premature death by increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, gout, and cavities." But perhaps these are no longer "health-related matters" for the AAFP or are now outside the scope of the practice of family medicine? According to the AAFP's press release on the new alliance, "The Consumer Alliance program is a way of working with interested companies 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," said AAFP President-elect Lori Heim, M.D., of Vass, N.C. So, Coca-Cola can now be part of a "balanced diet and healthy lifestyle" according to America's family physicians?!

Credibility lost.

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