Tuesday, October 27, 2009

(Podcast) Coke and the AAFP on Weighty Mutters

You read that right - podcast.

I've been meaning to start podcasting for some time and finally I've got around to figuring it out (I hope).

The inaugural episode has me interviewing Dr. Lori Heim, the President-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Just two weeks ago her organization partnered up with Coca Cola to collaborate on educational materials for their website www.familydoctor.org. In return for their involvement Coca Cola is paying the AAFP $600,000.

So what is Coca Cola getting in return? Credibility and trust by association.

In preparing for the interview I went through blog posts and tweets regarding the deal and with almost no exceptions the social media world was up in arms, finding the partnership perverse.

The medical world is no less unhappy and just last week some of the world's most prominent nutritional epidemiologists and advocates sent an open letter to the AAFP asking them to rethink their plans or at the very least lend their name to campaigns supporting soda taxes and the publication of warning labels on sugar sweetened beverages.

In my interview with her, Dr. Heim gave me the sense that indeed, it was all about money and that the partnership with Coca Cola stemmed at least in part due to pressure from AAFP members to sever or reduce AAFP's ties with drug companies.

Personally I think in this case it's one of those situations where the adage, "better the devil you know" holds true. Physicians have a long history of working with drug companies and have a far better understanding both of their products and the methods they use to promote them. As well, Big Pharma has very specific guidelines on what they are and are not allowed to do and say in terms of commercial partnerships and practice. One senior Big Pharma person I know tells me that there are in fact departments within her company to ensure she markets her brands appropriately and she has numerous rules about what she is and is not allowed to do or say in their promotion. Further, the brands themselves have tremendous amounts of research, development and safety testing before they're ever sold.

Contrast those checks and balances with Big Food who have no such testing or obligations to create safe foods and while I have no proof, looking at their advertising I would be very surprised were there any oversight committees worrying about what's being said with the exception of those cases where federal advertising laws mattered or when trying to pretend like they care about children in their hollow pledges not to advertise to them.

None of this is ideal. Ideal would be a situation where the AAFP could be financially self sustainable without external funding. That's not an option, but with this Coca Cola partnership, I think they've bet on the wrong horse.

To hear my interview with Dr. Heim I'm hoping all you'll have to do is click somewhere in this post (and I suspect email subscribers will likely have to visit the blog). If I'm really lucky I'll even figure out how to get it on iTunes.

Or you can click here to download this podcast