THROWING IN THE TOWEL

Posted in Rants on October 13th, 2009 by Ed

When a person or group of people puts extensive effort into trying to correct your behavior for the better, nothing rattles you quite like seeing them give up and walk away in a cloud of anger, defeat, and disgust. Imagine visiting the old family doctor and after years of hearing "Stop eating so much red meat," "Stop smoking," and "Get more exercise" you brace for more of the same. Instead she walks into the examination room, looks at you with weary resignation, and announces, "Fuck it. Go to Hardee's. Smoke unfiltered tar. I don't give a shit anymore." That would be shocking because the doctor is supposed to be the person who gives you the right advice even though you clearly intend to ignore it. This is why teachers and professors listlessly remind every class not to wait until the evening before the due date to start their papers even though we are fully aware that everyone will. We do it because if you're going to engage in harmful behavior we want, at the very least, to instill awareness of the fact that it is harmful.

With that, my befuddlement at the decision of the American Academy of Family Physicians to enter into an endorsement deal – ahem, 'corporate partnership' – with Coca-Cola. Aside from being a landmark in the history of surrendering one's dignity for cash and making a public show of sucking Satan's wang as enthusiastically and noisily as possible, this represents an exceptionally troubling abrogation of professional responsibility by the Academy. They proudly announce that they eagerly await:

working with The Coca-Cola Company, and other companies in the future, on the development of educational materials to teach consumers how to make the right choices and incorporate the products they love into a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Translation: we give up. You're going to drink Coke anyway so we're lowering the bar and simply hoping that you'll cut back to 96 ounces per day.

Coke is bad for you. Soda is bad for you. It's a 200-calorie can of corn syrup and chemicals. Diet soda lacks the calories but doubles down on the unnatural chemical additives. And doctors have an absolute – not relative – obligation to tell you to avoid it. If you're not going to follow that advice anyway, and I certainly understand that few people do, why get worked up about it? Well, I'm glad you asked. Several reasons.

First, the conflict of interest involved in taking Coke's money is embarrassing. The company's view of health and nutrition is comically self-serving and diametrically opposed to what we know about the obesity epidemic, especially among children. Doctors know, as the linked article points out, that morbidly obese children are often taking in 1000 to 2000 calories per day just in soft drinks. Yet Coke CEO / Satan's Fluffer Muhtar Kent summarizes the company's Pollyanna Theory of American Obesity in a WSJ editorial: Coke doesn't make people fat. Eating too much of everything that isn't Coke coupled with insufficient exercise makes people fat. Of course. Is the AAFP going to endorse this position?

Second, how is Coke's money going to affect the research the group claims will be funded? Are they going to start falsifying data to make it look like drinking liquid sugar is OK or are they going to piss off their new corporate partner? How much BS will they shovel in creating an explanation for how Coke is "part of a healthy diet"? I envision an updated version of those old commercials which claimed that Lucky Charms were part of a healthy breakfast as long as you ate an orange, a bunch of grapes, two slices of dry whole grain toast, and a scrambled egg with it.

Third, no good can come of watering down the message from "Eliminate this from your diet" to "OK, we give up. Just try to take it easy" combined with some fallacious theory about "making up for it" with more exercise. There is a meaningful difference between treating yourself to the occasional Coke while understanding that it's bad for you and convincing yourself that it isn't bad in moderation. And that is what Coke is trying to buy here – legitimacy for and dissemination of the idea that, gee, it's really not so bad.

Getting the blessing of medical professionals must be a dream come true for Coke, the kind of publicity that a company can't just buy. Wait. Actually it can be bought, and as usual the price was disturbingly low.