Can the Conventional Medical Profession Be Trusted?

According to a recent article in The New York Times, growing distrust in the medical profession poses a threat to public health and safety.1 “Trust is crucial in the relationship between patients and health care providers, but it's been on the decline in recent decades,” Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a researcher at Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research writes, noting that:

“Mistrust in the medical profession — particularly during emergencies like epidemics — can have deadly consequences. In 1966, more than three-fourths of Americans had great confidence in medical leaders; today, only 34 percent do.

Compared with people in other developed countries, Americans are considerably less likely to trust doctors, and only a quarter express confidence in the health system. During some recent disease outbreaks, less than one-third of Americans said they trusted public health officials to share complete and accurate information. Only 14 percent trust the federal government to do what’s right most of the time.”

Trust Requires Trustworthiness

Trust in the conventional medical paradigm has declined for a good reason. As noted by Khullar, “Waning trust in the health system is partly a result of the sometimes well-founded public perception that its key players pursue profits at the expense of patients.” Indeed, how is anyone expected to trust a system as riddled with corporate profit bias as what we currently have?

Doctors, while well-intentioned, have by and large become untrustworthy for the simple fact that they stopped thinking for themselves and fell into a corporate for-profit scheme that depends on chronic illness. Few are those who buck the system, do their own research rather than getting their information from pharmaceutical reps, and focus on patient education about preventive strategies that don’t involve costly drugs or surgical interventions.

A healthy whole food diet, exercise, proper breathing and movement, sensible sun exposure and grounding — these are all simple foundational aspects of good health that cost very little or nothing. Yet they’re rarely if ever considered when it comes time to address illness. The article also rightfully notes that transparency is a key feature that inspires trust, and honest transparency has become increasingly difficult to come by.

As just one example, the list of medical professionals, nutritional professionals and academics who pose as independent experts sharing their well-educated stances with the public — when in fact they are paid shills for one corporation or another — has grown longer with each passing year. Hiding conflicts of interest has become the norm, it seems, and honest disclosure of possible conflicts of interest is a cornerstone of the kind of transparency needed to build trust.

Following are a few blaring examples showcasing why distrust in the medical system is actually warranted, and could be viewed as a sign of sanity prevailing over orchestrated attempts to undermine public health and well-being.

CDC and Coca-Cola — Still ‘Partners in Health’

In 2015, it was revealed that a Coca-Cola front group called the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) was founded to cast doubts on claims that soda consumption is a major if not primary cause of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and related health problems. The network, funded with millions from Coca-Cola that were never publicly disclosed, pushed the already debunked theory that to maintain a healthy weight, all you need is more exercise.  

After that public relations nightmare, Coca-Cola vowed to be more transparent about its funding of scientists and health partnerships, but as noted in a recent report by Russ Greene,2 the company has not changed its ways.

While Coca-Cola claims to publish “all relevant funding of well-being related research, partnerships and health professionals and scientific experts” every six months, when comparing the company’s data with annual reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), Greene discovered major discrepancies.

As it turns out, Coca-Cola failed to report some of its largest payments to the CDC. “Coca-Cola donated to the [CDC’s] Foundation in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the Foundation’s annual fiscal reports. And yet a search for ‘Centers for Disease Control’ in Coca-Cola’s website yields no results since 2012,” Greene writes.

He also notes that these payments seem to be at odds with statements made by former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, who last year stated he’d been “winding down Coke-funded programs” during his tenure, and had “basically canceled” the CDC’s Coca-Cola run anti-obesity campaign, saying he couldn’t justify having “Coca-Cola run an obesity campaign that had an exclusive focus on physical activity.”

Conflict of Interest Policy Forbids CDC Foundation From Partnering With Soda Giant

Frieden also claimed he’d encouraged the company to provide nonexercise-related donations, but that nothing had come of it, with the exception of a $20,000 donation for a program linked to fighting the Ebola virus.

“Frieden’s claims … are not consistent with the fact that Coca-Cola donated to the CDC Foundation during every single year of his tenure except 2014,” Greene writes, “And Coca-Cola’s ‘transparency’ archive is hiding at least four separate payments to the CDC Foundation. So, both parties are acting as if they’re ashamed of their partnership. And yet it persists.”

Perhaps most importantly, the CDC Foundation’s acceptance of funding from Coca-Cola is at odds with its own conflict of interest policy, which does not permit “Partnership with an organization that represents any product that exacerbates morbidity or mortality when used as directed (mission compatibility).” Anyone who has read even a fraction of the research on sugar and sweetened beverages in recent years would agree that Coca-Cola does not qualify as a CDC “mission compatible” health partner.

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