Harvard nutrition expert offers family physician group no-cost alternative to funding from Coca-Cola

Leading Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) nutrition and health researcher Walter Willett, M.D., Dr. P.H., has written a letter to the President-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) offering an alternative to the organization’s decision, announced in October, to accept a six-figure grant from the Coca-Cola Company to develop web content on beverages and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

In his November 9, 2009 letter, Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and a professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests that AAFP provide a link on its website to HSPH’s popular Nutrition Source website (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource), which contains multiple pages of easy-to-read content for lay people on how to achieve a healthy diet.

The healthy beverages section of the site, “Choosing Healthy Drinks” (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/), offers advice on how to limit sugary beverage consumption and handy guidelines on the amount of calories and sugar in soda, juice and other popular drinks. It also offers lower-calorie beverage options as a way to decrease the risk of obesity.

“I’d like to offer your organization the opportunity to link to our website’s content and return the funding to Coca-Cola,” says Willett in the letter. (For a copy of the complete letter, go to http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/files/willett_coca_cola_letter_final.pdf). AAFP’s announcement of its “alliance” with Coca-Cola is available here: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/media/releases/newsreleases-statements-2009/consumeralliance-cocacola.html

Willett agrees that it is important to provide information about how people can incorporate foods and drinks they love into an overall healthy lifestyle. He points out, however, that research overwhelmingly suggests that the consumption of sugar-laden sodas is a leading cause of obesity in the U.S. today and that children are particularly at risk.

Linking to content that has already been created and vetted by Harvard School of Public Health without industry funding would offer AAFP the opportunity to provide this information to those who visit their website almost immediately, Willett says.

Walter Willett is a leading researcher and promoter of healthy eating for healthier lifestyles. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Eat, Drink and Be Healthy; Eat, Drink and Weigh Less; and The Fertility Diet. He was a co-author, along with Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, and other researchers of the article, “The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages,” which appeared in the October 15, 2009 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Willett for many years has been a leading proponent of successful efforts to get trans fat out of restaurant foods and to have trans fat content labeled on food packaging.

Harvard School of Public Health ( http://www.hsph.harvard.edu ) is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu

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