Public release date: 15-Jul-2010–The Coca-Cola Company to fund patient education materials on obesity – raises concern about the development of a corporate culture within a medical professional society
In an essay addressing the recent controversy over the American Academy of Family Physicians accepting a large corporate donation from The Coca-Cola Company to fund patient education materials on obesity prevention, family physician and AAFP member Howard Brody, M.D., Ph.D., argues that accepting funds from commercial sources that seek to influence physician organization behavior in a direction that could run counter to the public health constitutes a conflict of interest. He asserts that many of the defenses offered by AAFP leadership are rationalizations rather than sound ethical counterarguments. He concludes that medical organizations, as the public face of medicine and as formulators of codes of ethics for their physician members, have special obligations to adhere to high ethical standards, and he raises concern about the development of a corporate culture within a medical professional society. Family physicians, he concludes, have demonstrated a commitment to putting the health needs of their patients ahead of personal financial gain. As such, they deserve to be represented nationally by an organization that fully reflects those high ethical commitments and standards.
In response to the editorial by Howard Brody, M.D., Ph.D., AAFP President, Lori Heim, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., counters in a separate essay that the AAFP’s new consumer alliance agreement with The Coca-Cola Company illustrated the AAFP’s adherence to its ethical foundation, demonstrated the AAFP’s commitment to serving physicians and the public, and maintained the trust Americans put in their family physicians and the organization that represents them. She contends that throughout the development of the program, the AAFP consistently addressed possible conflicts of interest openly and directly, sharing with its members and the public exactly what measures it was taking to ensure that no unethical conduct or breach of trust would occur. The AAFP saw a public health and education need that was both unmet and undermined by the barrage of marketing messages and confusing information and acted to fill that need by developing unbiased educational materials to help patients make good nutrition decisions. In so doing, she concludes, the AAFP hewed to its high ethical standards, its core values, and its mission in the decisions made and the actions that followed.