Follow the Money: Coca-Cola’s Science on a Balanced Diet is Incredibly Imbalanced

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Soft-drink sponsored exercise has become almost expected at events like the Olympics or the Boston Marathon and the X-Games. The subliminal message that marketers want us to absorb is that we need these types of drinks to help us exercise. Most of us know, however, that Coca-Cola has nothing to do with becoming a good gymnast, and that Monster Energy drinks don’t do anything to help cardiovascular endurance. In fact, there is an increasingly large body of evidence showing us that sugary drinks are related to obesity and other preventable chronic conditions. According to a recent New York Times article, Coca-Cola is working hard to have us believe otherwise.

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If you are interested in learning more about how sugar-sweetened drinks are related to obesity and other preventable chronic conditions, and if you are interested in supporting legislation that could help curb this trend, then check out our information page on sugar consumption and a national soda tax wellnesswarrior.org/soda_tax

According to Ahahad O’Conor of the New York Times, Coca-Cola has provided a large amount of funding and support to the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a non-profit research group focused on exercise and weight loss. The main message of GEBN is that exercise is a key component in preventing obesity. GEBN is receiving a large amount of criticism:

Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.”

These critics believe that the research coming out of GEBN, then is fairly suspect, and other groups have chimed in to speak up against the skewed-science-as-marketing approach of which GEBN is being accused. In a recent article in the Guardian, long-time sugary beverage opponent Dr. Marion Nestle lent her years of wisdom to the fray, explaining that when Coca-Cola money is involved, research-results tend to work in the company's favor:

Just last month, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study arguing that the results of national dietary surveys, such as those that link sugary drinks to type-2 diabetes, are so flawed that they constitute a major misuse of public funds. The authors report honoraria, speaking and consulting fees from Coca-Cola…..

Analyses of studies funded by Coca-Cola or its trade association demonstrate that they have an 83% probability of producing results suggesting no harm from soda consumption. In contrast, the same percentage of studies funded by government agencies or independent foundations find clear linkages between sugary beverages and such conditions. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

Coca-Cola’s global reach and deep pockets are particularly concerning. Critics accuse the compnay of “big tobacco tactics” wherein money, politics and misleading information is being used to coerce the public into doing something categorically unhealthy, for corporate profit.

It seems though, that just as the Big Tobacco industry in now a vestige of earlier decades in the U.S. so to will Big Soda become in the coming decades. The Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote a letter to the editor in response to O’Connor’s article in which it painted Coca-Cola as being behind the times and trends in the research community. Authored by Michael Jacobson and Harvard Professor Dr. Walter Willett, the letter was signed by 34 other research scientists and public health officials and advocates signed:

The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provides compelling evidence for the causal link between sugary drinks and disease, as well as the need for exercise. Unfortunately, Coca-Cola and its academic helpers won’t accept the well-documented evidence that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and [Type 2] diabetes.”

Let’s hope that the public continues to become more aware of the science relating sugary beverages to obesity and continues to become more aware of the blatant misdirection embedded in Coca-Cola funded research. The sugary drink industry is getting closer to being exposed for what it truly is.

Image courtesy of the Coca-Cola Co.

Sources:

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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