Dr. William Walker's Statement on the AAFP partnership with Coca Cola
My name is Dr. William Walker. I’m the Director of Contra Costa Health Services, the Health Officer for the County and until this month a 25-year member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
I’m here today to announce my resignation from the organization and to explain why the doctors who are here with me today and I feel so strongly about recent action by the organization that we are publicly acting.
Recently the American Academy of Family Physicians announced an alliance with the Coca Cola Company to promote healthy eating. I am appalled and ashamed of this partnership between Coca-Cola and the American Academy of Family Physicians. How can any organization that claims to promote public health join forces with a company that promotes products that put our children at risk for obesity, heart disease and early death.
When I sent in my resignation, their response was that the Coca-Cola partnership offers AAFP an opportunity to work with a major consumer products company to educate patients on making better choices. That is ridiculous. Having the soda industry create materials about making the right choices is like having the fox guard the hen house. This is reminiscent of when the tobacco industry enlisted doctors to endorse cigarette brands as ‘mild’.
Some of you may remember the 1940s and 50s when physicians were used on billboards and magazine ads to promote tobacco smoking. Then came the Surgeon General’s warning that smoking was harmful to your health. We discovered that the tobacco industry was deceiving us into thinking that smoking was safe. In response, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association all stepped up to take leadership roles in alerting the public that cigarettes & secondhand smoke contain cancer-causing products.
These respectable organizations joined our efforts at the local level to protect our residents. They worked side by side with us for years helping City Councils pass ordinances and communities learn about the problem.
I would expect no less than that kind of leadership from the American Academy of Family Physicians—an organization I’ve proudly belonged to for 25 years—I would expect them to join doctors like me in the latest epidemic we are facing: obesity.
Sadly, the AAFP has done the opposite. The AAFP is supposed to be an organization that works to protect the health of children not put them at risk. Their decision to take soda money is all the more unconscionable because, unlike doctors in the 40s, they well know the negative health impact of soda. There is no shortage of documentation that soda is a major contributor to our nation's obesity epidemic.
With the epidemic of obesity we are seeing an increase in risks for heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. According to a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 41% of young children aged 2 to 11 drink at least one soda or sugar-sweetened beverage per day .
- Even more alarming, the study found 62% of older children youths aged 12 to 17 drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverage per day —the same as consuming an amazing 39 pounds of sugar each year in sugar-sweetened beverages alone.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that if current trends continue, as many as 1 out of every 5 children today will grow up with type II diabetes.
- A recent report shows a 33 percent rise in obesity rates statewide and the reported economic impact of being overweight, obese and physically inactive has nearly doubled, now costing California as a whole an estimated $41 billion a year — $1.3 billion in Contra Costa alone in health care costs.
Let me be clear about something: as disappointed as I am with the American Academy of Family Physicians for being duped into thinking that Coca Cola wants to help promote health, the real problem here is our children are being put at risk.
Companies like Coca Cola are polluting our communities with deceptive advertising promoting products that put our children's health at risk.
We're vaccinating people all across the country this month for H1N1 and as a result, we should be able to control that outbreak. We can and should do no less to stop the obesity epidemic.
Unfortunately there is no vaccine against obesity, but as a family practice doctor and the Health Officer for Contra Costa, I do have a prescription for every parent, teacher, community leader and student:
Look beyond the glitzy advertising that makes you think pouring liquid containing sugar into your body is healthy. Read the label. Look at the ingredients. I’m not suggesting that you boycott sugared drinks, but please make an informed decision about what you are consuming.
I’m calling on every city and neighborhood in our County to fight back against the industry the pushes these harmful products. I ask the American Academy of Family Physicians to end this unhealthy partnership and to join us in leading this important campaign to take back the health of our residents and end the obesity epidemic.