Friday, October 15, 2010

Dr Coca-Cola, Meet Dr Butterfinger

First, it was the American Academy of Family Practice accepting money from Coca-Cola to support educational programs to foster a "healthy lifestyle," (see our post here, and the post by Dr Howard Brody here that also linked to his article in Annals of Family Medicine.)

Now, it is the American Academy of Pediatrics accepting money from Nestle, specifically, the NestleNutrition Institute, to support "obesity prevention and care."  The AAP news release (here) said: 
HEALTHY ACTIVE LIVING FOR FAMILIES (HALF): RIGHT FROM THE START is a program of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It is sponsored through the generous support of the Nestlé Nutrition Institute (NNI). The goal of the HALF project is to develop and test a series of positive, family-focused messages specific to obesity prevention and care for the following developmental stages: infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood/preschoolers, which can be used at pediatric well-child visits. These messages and materials will be unique from those already in existence because they will be crafted using the medical home framework, a developmental approach to children’s care, and parent-tested.

Nestle, of course, is the manufacturer of all sorts of delicious, gooey chocolate candies.  (Full disclosure: I have been known to eat Nestle chocolate products.)

So far, this notable collaboration has drawn some criticism in the blogsphere, e.g., in the Breastfeeding Medicine blog, by DrAlison Stuebe:
The AAP should not be taking money for an anti-obesity project from an institute whose parent company sells candy and ice cream — and hawks flawed advice designed to undermine breastfeeding mothers.

If the AAP is really 'dedicated to the health of all children,' they should send that check back to Nestle and start over. American families deserve nothing less.

Also, consumer advocates have come out against this dubious alliance, as mentioned in the WalletPop blog.

So far, I have seen nothing in the main-stream media about this. 

Clearly, this raises the same sorts of issues that the alliance between the AAFP and Coca-Cola raised.  In summary, pediatricians are trusted by parents to give advice not just about drugs, vaccines, and surgery, but about diet, exercise, life-style, etc.  Having the most respected pediatric professional society hawking a diet and life-style program paid for by a chocolate manufacturer risks biasing the advice that its members give, and threatening the trust parents and children have in their pediatricians.  The AAP has been previously criticized for providing guidelines advocating extremely aggressive drug treatment for childhood hyperlipidemia amid questions about whether support from the pharmaceutical industry, including "$433,000 from Merck, $835,250 from Abbott Laboratories’ Ross Product Division and $216,000 from the Bristol-Myers Squibb company Mead Johnson Nutritionals," biased these guidelines. (Amounts were from 2007, per the New York Times)  Once a medical society becomes accustomed to living off corporate largess, it may not be a big leap to add funding from Nestle to that from drug companies. 

I respectfully submit that professional organizations which wish to be seen as upholding physicians' professionalism should not be taking money from corporations that may see physicians' advice and prescriptions as means to market their products.  Professional organizations that do take such money risk being viewed more as arms of corporate marketing than as upholders of physicians' ideals.  (And the medical home they advocate may be seen as a house made of chocolate.)


Bernard Carroll said...

And the medical home they advocate may be seen as a house made of chocolate. Which will be surrounded by chocolate soldiers posing as pediatricians, no doubt.

Live it or live with it said...

"Once a medical society becomes accustomed to living off corporate largess" --- This is one of the first times I have seen this stated so bluntly, but it is so true, and it happens everywhere, most notably in government where the regulated fund the departments that police them directly or indirectly.

The watchmen say the amounts of support, typically 10% to 20% of a department, are not large enough to cause bias. However as soon as someone suggests them cutting their budget, it’s all doom and gloom about how this contraction of their little empire will impact the populace.

So true for the non-medical part of academia, sure, the amounts they receive from the medical side is only a few tens of millions (or hundreds of millions on occasion), but ask them to cut that much from their budgets and its like a catastrophe will occur.

The watchdogs become fat on the scraps from the hog trough of medicine. They can’t image how Spartan it would be without the largess.

Anonymous said...

Actually, its much worse than that, the BIG money trail goes through your congressman who then influences the regulators.