by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coca-Cola

Aug 20 2015

Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s CEO, and scientist Steven Blair respond to critics

Coca-Cola, in case you missed the furor over last week’s New York Times article, has a huge public relations problem.

The damage control begins today with Coke’s CEO’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

Our company has been accused of shifting the debate to suggest that physical activity is the only solution to the obesity crisis. There also have been reports accusing us of deceiving the public about our support of scientific research…I am disappointed that some actions we have taken to fund scientific research and health and well-being programs have served only to create more confusion and mistrust. I know our company can do a better job engaging both the public-health and scientific communities—and we will.

By supporting research and nonprofit organizations, we seek to foster more science-based knowledge to better inform the debate about how best to deal with the obesity epidemic. We have never attempted to hide that. However, in the future we will act with even more transparency as we refocus our investments and our efforts on well-being.

He promises that the company will:

• Publish on our website a list of our efforts to reduce calories and market responsibly, along with a list of health and well-being partnerships and research activities we have funded in the past five years, which we will continue to update every six months.

• Charter and recruit an oversight committee of independent experts to advise and provide governance on company investments in academic research.

• Engage leading experts to explore future opportunities for our academic research investment and health and well-being initiatives.

Personally, I can’t wait to see the list of Coke-funded research activities.  Want to bet how many of those studies came out with results that Coca-Cola can use to claim that sugary drinks have no effect on obesity or type 2 diabetes?  I’d also like a count of the number of studies Coca-Cola has funded to cast doubt on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the country’s major dietary monitoring program, which has the annoying habit of linking sugary drinks to those conditions.

Mr. Kent ends his piece with this plea:

As we continue to learn, it is my hope that our critics will receive us with an open mind. 

Unless Coca-Cola stops pouring millions of dollars into fighting soda caps and taxes, stops targeting its marketing to minorities, and stops lobbying against public health measures to help people eat more healthfully, keeping Mr. Kent’s version of an open mind will be difficult. 

Steven Blair, one of the scientists involved in Coke-funded research, posted this statement today:

I have asked that my video addressing energy balance be taken down from the GEBN website. I regret that a statement I made in this video has been used by some to brand GEBN as a network focusing only on physical activity. This is not true and never has been true. From the beginning the mission of GEBN has been to study the science of energy balance which involves both diet and physical activity. GEBN has some of the top nutritionist experts in the world who have published research showing the importance of diet and in particular of soda consumption in causing obesity. My dismissal of diet as a cause of obesity did a disservice to their work. I hope many of you can relate to feeling so passionate about an issue that you say some things that you later regret. I believe that both diet and physical activity are important in obesity and that we must address both together to help people achieve healthy weights. I look forward to working with other GEBN researchers to do this.

James Hill, another of the scientists involved in this fiasco, also has issued a statement.  When it becomes public, I will post a link to it.

Additions, August 21

Aug 19 2015

Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of favorable research: the saga continues

When the New York Times published an article describing Coca-Cola’s financial sponsorship of university researchers who de-emphasize the role of sugary drinks in raising the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, it kicked up a storm.

USA Today’s editorial board said:

It isn’t that companies pay scientists to put out false research. It’s that companies fund the work of scientists who happen to be doing research that spurs consumers to look away from science that hurts corporate interests.

Soft drinks are far less dangerous than cigarettes, but GEBN’s website, tweets and videos come right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, brought into the digital era. Its leaders have done research in the past under about $3 million in grants given to their universities.

USA Today also printed a response by a Coca-Cola spokesman:

A recent New York Times article created confusion about our support of research and non-profit organizations, stating we want people to think that only exercise matters and not diet — but nothing could be further from the truth. We have always operated under the fact that a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are key ingredients for a healthy lifestyle.

That said, we need to do a better job of being even more transparent about the research we fund, the non-profit organizations we support and the way we publicly share this information. And we will.

Yesterday, Senator Richard Blumenthal sent letters to the University of Colorado, West Virginia University, and the University of South Carolina urging them to  clarify the nature of the University’s relationship with projects funded by Coca-Cola and to review the academic integrity of such grant agreements.

I believe your university must determine whether this research is in effect promoting a predisposed and biased agenda, rather than reflecting the impartiality and objectively (sic) expected from a public academic institution.

Years of litigation with tobacco companies were necessary to fully expose the tragic public health consequences when companies lie about the hazards of the products they sell.  I am deeply concerned that we may force future generations to relive this history if corporate-sponsored studies devoid of scientific integrity are permitted once again to deceptively downplay and conceal the dangers of a product consumed on a mass scale.

Do not underestimate Senator Blumenthal’s ability to deal with food companies.  He, you may recall, was responsible for withdrawal in 2009 of the ill-conceived Smart Choices program during his stint as Connecticut’s attorney general.

I’m still waiting for the Global Calorie Balance Network to issue its promised statement.  Stay tuned.

Aug 13 2015

The Guardian: Coca-Cola says its drinks don’t cause obesity. Science says otherwise

I wrote this piece for The Guardian in response to the New York Times article earlier this week about Coca-Cola’s funding of scientists who think obesity is more about exercise than drinking sodas:

These days, you almost have to feel sorry for soda companies. Sales of sugar-sweetened and diet drinks have been falling for a decade in the United States, and a new Gallup Poll says 60% of Americans are trying to avoid drinking soda. In attempts to reverse these trends and deflect concerns about the health effects of sugary drinks, the soda industry invokes elements of the tobacco industry’s classic playbook: cast doubt on the science, discredit critics, invoke nanny statism and attribute obesity to personal irresponsibility.

Casting doubt on the science is especially important to soda makers. Overwhelming evidence links habitual consumption of sugary drinks to poor health. So many studies have identified sodas as key contributors to chronic health conditions – most notably obesity, type-2 diabetes and coronary artery disease – that the first thing anyone trying to stay healthy should do is to stop drinking them.

Soda companies know this. For at least the last 10 years, Coca-Cola’s annual reports to the US Securities and Exchange Commission have listed obesity and its health consequences as the single greatest threat to the company profits. The industry counters this threat with intensive marketing, lobbying and millions of dollars poured into fighting campaigns to tax or cap the size of sugary drinks.

But it is also pours millions into convincing researchers and health professionals to view sodas as benign.

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.

This week’s revelation of Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network is only the latest example of this strategy in action. The Network promotes the idea that to prevent obesity you don’t need to bother about eating less or drinking less soda. You just have to be more active. Never mind that most people can’t lose weight without also reducing their intake.

A reporter who looked into this group discovered that Coca-Cola had funded the research of the scientists behind it, and generously. The network’s website was registered to Coca-Cola. None of this, however, had been made explicit.

Most nutrition professional journals now require researchers to declare who funds their studies, making it possible to compare study outcomes with funding sources. Studies sponsored by Coca-Cola almost invariably report no association of sugary drinks with diabetes, they question the validity of studies that do find such associations or, as in the case of Global Energy Balance Network investigators, they find activity to be the most important determinant of body weight.

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.

Since March, I’ve been posting industry-funded studies with results that favor the sponsor’s interests every time I find five of them. They are easy to find. Despite pleas to readers to send me industry-funded studies that do not favor the sponsor, I hardly ever get them. Whenever I come across a study that shows no harm from sodas, I immediately look to see who paid for it.

Soda companies spend generously to convince researchers and health professionals not to worry about sodas’ health effects. But why do researchers take the money? It is too simplistic to say that they are “bought.” Industry-funded investigators say they believe the funding has no effect on the design, conduct or interpretation of their research. But research involves choices of questions, assumptions and methods. It is not difficult to carry out a study that appears to meet high scientific standards yet fails to include critical controls that might lead to alternative conclusions.

Researchers funded by Coca-Cola need to take special care to control for unconscious biases but can only do this if they recognize the possibility. Many do not. Neither do many peer reviewers or editors of scientific journals. Although food-company financial support should not necessarily bias results, it appears to do so in practice.

Industry-funded scientists resent questioning of the influence of sponsorship on the quality of their science. They charge that investigators who find adverse effects of sodas on health are equally biased by career goals, righteous zeal or anti-corporate morality. Yes, independent scientists may have biases of their own, but their overarching research goal is to improve public health. In contrast, the goal of soda companies is to use research as a marketing tool.

Disclosure is essential. If a study is funded by Coca-Cola, caveat emptor.

Jul 15 2015

The curious incident of Nick Jonas, Coca-Cola, Crossfit, and Diabetes

Thanks to Melanie Nesheim for sending me a link to Russ Greene’s (The Russells) account of Nick Jonas’s dispute with Crossfit over its posting of this image.

As best as I can tell, here’s what happened.

Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, who has Type 1 diabetes, sent out a tweet objecting to this image as insulting to people with type 1 diabetes.   Note: Sugary beverages are a not a risk factor for type 1 diabetes but they are for type 2 (see, for example thisthis, and this).

Russ Greene entered the fray with a tweet pointing out that Coca-Cola sponsors the Jonas Brothers’ concerts.

Apparently, this caught the attention of Good Morning America.

A spokesman for Nick Jonas denied that he had any kind of deal with Coca-Cola.

Capture

Maybe not, but as Mr. Greene pointed out, Coca-Cola presents or sponsors the concerts and advertises that it does so.

My conclusions from this incident:

  • In taking on CrossFit’s critique of the role of sugary drinks in diabetes, Nick Jonas became a de facto spokesman for Coca-Cola.
  • Coca-Cola’s support of Jonas Brothers’ concerts paid off.
  • Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of musicians and sports figures buys loyalty and deflects attention from the well documented role of sugary drinks in type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.

And, of course, I examine this sort of sponsorship in much greater detail in my forthcoming Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)which comes out in October.

Jun 22 2015

Yes, you can buy Coke and Pepsi in Cuba

I’ve been in Cuba for the past week on a food sovereignty agricultural tour sponsored by Food First.

I will have more to say about this trip, but I’ll start with my obsession with sodas (because of my forthcoming book, Soda Politics): Does the U.S. embargo prevent sales of Coke and Pepsi in Cuba?

Based on research for the book, I know that Cuba is one of the last remaining countries in which Coke and Pepsi cannot be marketed.  North Korea is another.  Myanmar used to be in that category, but came out of it a couple of years ago.

So I was fascinated to see this street cart in Old Havana (Coke hecho en Mexico):

2015-06-13 16.00.44

And in a small market near the Hotel Nacional (Pepsi bottled in El Salvador):

2015-06-18 16.46.59

And in a suburban supermercado outside of Havana (3-liter Cokes from Mexico):

2015-06-19 15.50.43As for soda marketing, it’s only collectors’ items.  These are on the wall of Paladar San Cristóbal, in Central Havana:

2015-06-19 13.45.41

As I’ll discuss in later posts, these are harbingers of marketing to come.

Jun 11 2015

San Francisco supervisors vs. sugary drinks

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved three measures to deal with sugary drinks:

1.  Put warning labels on all print and billboard ads for sodas and sugary drinks sold in the city (those with more than 25 calories per 12 ounces).

2.  Ban soda ads on city property

3.  Prohibit the use of city funds for the purchase of soda or sugary beverages

Will the mayor sign the measure?

Will the city’s famous freeway sign look like this?

coke-sign.jpg

 

May 7 2015

Milan Food Expo: The Coca-Cola pavilion

Coca-Cola is not a sponsor of the US Pavilion.  PepsiCo is.

Coca-Cola has its own pavilion:
2015-05-02 13.22.18

To enter, I registered for a key chain with a personalized chip.  Holding the chip to the exhibits gives me personalized information:

 

Picture1

Much of the Coca-Cola exhibit was devoted to the company’s commitment to the environment and to physical activity.

It also sold bags and items made from flip tops, some costing as much as 190 Euros (a Euro is about $1.20).

Visitors have to look elsewhere* for information about the effects of sugary drinks on health or about Coca-Cola’s long-standing opposition to bottle recycling laws or about who made the expensive flip-top bags and how much they were paid.

* My next book, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) comes out in October from Oxford University Press.

Mar 30 2015

Another picture worth many words: Coca-Cola in Myanmar

Except for Cuba, Myanmar used to be the only country in the world where Coca-Cola could not be sold.  The Burmese (now Myanmar) military junta kept Coke out for more than 60 years.

No more.  In 2013, Coca-Cola opened its first bottling plant in Myanmar as part of a $200 million investment in that country.

To do that, the company had to face many challenges: unfamiliarity with cold drinks, lack of refrigeration, and substantial labor and human rights issues.

But, as Coca-Cola explains:

For the people of Myanmar, this was more than the return of a delicious, refreshing beverage. To them, Coca‑Cola embodies the bright promise of better days and better lives ahead. And we look forward to being part of their journey.

When an NYU nutrition graduate, Catherine Normile, MS, RD, told me she was working on development projects in Myanmar, I asked her to take a look and see if she could send me photos of how Coca-Cola’s incursion into that country was proceeding.

Here’s one:

IMG_4572

And here’s another:

IMG_4475

She sent many more, but these will give you the idea.

Coca-Cola seems well established in Myanmar after just under two years.

I wonder how the country’s health statistics are coming along?

Page 1 of 912345...Last »