The front page of today’s New York Times includes a must-read article by Anahad O’Connor on the Global Energy Balance Network — Coca-Cola’s most recent front group.
- “The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.”
- “Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”
- “Coke has made a substantial investment in the new nonprofit. In response to requests based on state open-records laws, two universities that employ leaders of the Global Energy Balance Network disclosed that Coke had donated $1.5 million last year to start the organization.”
- “Coca-Cola’s public relations department repeatedly declined requests for an interview with its chief scientific officer, Rhona Applebaum, who has called attention to the new group on Twitter. In a statement, the company said it had a long history of supporting scientific research related to its beverages and topics such as energy balance.”
- “The group’s website also omitted mention of Coke’s backing until Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa, wrote to the organization to inquire about its funding.”
- “Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Coke’s support of prominent health researchers was reminiscent of tactics used by the tobacco industry, which enlisted experts to become “merchants of doubt” about the health hazards of smoking.”
- “Marion Nestle, the author of the book “Soda Politics” and a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, was especially blunt: “The Global Energy Balance Network is nothing but a front group for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola’s agenda here is very clear: Get these researchers to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake.”
- “On its website, the group recommends combining greater exercise and food intake because, [the group’s president] Dr. Hill said, “ ‘Eat less’ has never been a message that’s been effective. The message should be ‘Move more and eat smarter.’ ” “If we are out there saying it’s all about physical activity and it’s not about food, then we deserve criticism,” he said. “But I think we haven’t done that.” But in news releases and on its website, the group has struck a different tone. “The media tends to blame the obesity epidemic on our poor eating habits,” one recent news release states. “But are those french fries really the culprit? Dr. Steve Blair explains that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on TV.”
- “Physical activity is important and certainly helps, experts say. But studies show that exercise increases appetite, causing people to consume more calories. Exercise also expends far fewer calories than most people think. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, for example, contains 140 calories and roughly 10 teaspoons of sugar. “It takes three miles of walking to offset that one can of Coke,” Dr. Popkin said.”
- “Adding exercise to a diet program helps,” said Dr. Anne McTiernan, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. “But for weight loss, you’re going to get much more impact with diet changes.”
- Much like the research on sugary drinks, studies of physical activity funded by the beverage industry tend to reach conclusions that differ from the findings of studies by independent scientists. Last week, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana announced the findings of a large new study on exercise in children that determined that lack of physical activity “is the biggest predictor of childhood obesity around the world.” The news release contained a disclosure: “This research was funded by The Coca-Cola Company.”
It’s troubling that while public health luminaries see right through this tactic, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics continues to partner with the very companies that, time and time again, battle public health and misdirect dialogue.