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Health experts criticize Coca-Cola grant

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 22-Oct-2009
Last updated on 22-Oct-2009 at 17:41 GMT2009-10-22T17:41:30Z

Prominent health experts have written to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) urging it to return a grant from Coca-Cola to pay for education about the dietary role of beverages and sweeteners.

Coca-Cola granted the AAFP a “six-figure payment” two weeks ago, which the organization said would help fund nutritional education content on its website.

AAFP said that its partnership with Coca-Cola was the first it had formed as part of its Consumer Alliance, which allows corporate partners to work with the organization “to educate consumers about the role their products can play in a healthy, active lifestyle”.

However, the choice of the Coca-Cola Company in particular has caused concern among many academics and nutritionists who are worried that the AAFP could lose its independence and integrity.

The group of 22 health and nutrition experts wrote: “Because of the kinds of products it markets, Coca-Cola Co. is desperate to burnish its soiled reputation…which is why it is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a relationship with your organization…We urge the AAFP to regain its credibility by rejecting the deal with Coca-Cola.

Executive vice president of the AAFP Douglas Henley said in a statement that the organization was aware of the letter. Although the AAFP would not specify the exact amount of the grant, it said that the founding of the Consumer Alliance was part of its effort to expand funding sources beyond the pharmaceutical industry, and future partners could include “food, lifestyle and apparel products.”

Henley said: “Our alliance with The Coca-Cola Company gives the AAFP the opportunity to provide consumers with fact-based information on beverages and how to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle via FamilyDoctor.org…The AAFP and The Coca-Cola Company share a commitment to inform consumers, as well as medical professionals, about best practices for good health. And we will move forward with this commitment together by providing educational materials on sweeteners and how to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle while still enjoying many of the foods and beverages consumers love.”

Vice president of Living Well for Coca-Cola North America Celeste Bottorff told FoodNavigator-USA.com in an email: “The Coca-Cola Company has a long history of giving in the United States and our support contributes to a wide variety of areas such as sports, arts, education, health, community-building and the environment. The AAFP is one among many health organizations that we support in an effort to enhance and improve consumer education.”

AAFP said that partnerships formed under its Consumer Alliance program would not include endorsement of any product.

A copy of the letter received by the AAFP can be accessed here .

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