Quantcast

Coca-Cola Sees Public Health Debate as 'a Growing War,' Documents Reveal

Health + Wellness
Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola intentionally funded the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) as a "weapon" in a "growing war between the public health community and private industry" on the causes of obesity, according to a press release sent to EcoWatch by consumer group U.S. Right to Know.

The quotes come from documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Request filed by U.S. Right to Know that formed the basis for a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The study's authors focused on the documents because they definitively proved that Coca-Cola funded the GEBN with the intention of influencing public health debate in their favor.


"[C]onclusions about the intentions of food and beverage companies in funding scientific organisations have been prevented by limited access to industry's internal documents," the abstract said. The revealed documents therefore allowed the study's authors to draw those conclusions.

The documents further revealed that Coca-Cola intended the GEBN to appear as an "honest broker" in the national conversation on obesity, but that it's actual purpose was to "promote practices that are effective in terms of both policy and profit," the abstract said.

The GEBN was a non-profit dedicated to promoting the idea that exercise, not calorie counting, was the key to weight-loss and health. It was presided over by scientists from the University of Colorado, the University of South Carolina and West Virginia University. The group imploded after a series of events initiated when The New York Times reported in August 2015 that it was funded by Coca-Cola. Then, in November of that year, The Associated Press obtained emails showing that the soft-drink company had played a major role in shaping the group's mission and branding, even instructing it not to use blue in its logo, to avoid associations with Pepsi, CBS reported. The group disbanded a week later.

When the scandal broke, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent told the Associated Press, "[I]t has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network. Clearly, we have more work to do to reflect the values of this great company in all that we do."

The newly-released documents, however, suggest that transparency was never the goal, and that the shadiness of the GEBN's funding reflected the company's values rather accurately.

Even though Coca-Cola has tried to buy scientific weight for its claims that exercise is more important for combating obesity than diet, the scientific consensus actually runs the other way, The Times reported in the article revealing the source of the GEBN's funding. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, drinking sugary drinks regularly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, gout, heart disease, and obesity.

The authors of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health study expressed concern that Coca-Cola is borrowing tactics from another industry attempting to sell unhealthy products.

"Coca-Cola's proposal for establishing the GEBN corroborates concerns about food and beverage corporations' involvement in scientific organisations and their similarities with Big Tobacco," the abstract said.

Just because the GEBN disbanded doesn't mean Coca-Cola has stopped trying to influence public policy. In February, U.S. Right to Know sued the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for documents about its relationship to the soft-drink giant. Former CDC chief Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who resigned in January after it was revealed she'd bought shares in a tobacco company, also had ties to Coca-Cola. As Georgia Public Health Commissioner she had co-run with the company an anti-obesity program called Georgia SHAPE that promotes exercise but doesn't mention diet, U.S. Right to Know reported.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pixabay

By Claire L. Jarvis

A ruckus over biofuels has been brewing in Iowa.

Read More Show Less
Serena and Venus Williams have been known to follow a vegan diet. Edwin Martinez / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Whitney E. Akers

  • "The Game Changers" is a new documentary on Netflix that posits a vegan diet can improve athletic performance in professional athletes.

  • Limited studies available show that the type of diet — plant-based or omnivorous — doesn't give you an athletic advantage.

  • We talked to experts about what diet is the best for athletic performance.

Packed with record-setting athletes displaying cut physiques and explosive power, "The Game Changers," a new documentary on Netflix, has a clear message: Vegan is best.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
An illegally trafficked tiger skull and pelt. Ryan Moehring / USFWS

By John R. Platt

When it comes to solving problems related to wildlife trade, there are an awful lot of "sticky widgets."

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be both good and bad.

On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and disease.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Dan Nosowitz

It's no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Bijal Trivedi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.

Read More Show Less
Rool Paap / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

Read More Show Less