by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coca-Cola

Nov 24 2015

A casual (non-scientific, but amusing) soda tasting

I gave a talk on Soda Politics to NYU’s long-standing Experimental Cuisine Collective, a partnership between NYU’s chemistry and food studies programs.

I thought it would be fun to start it off with a soda tasting (thanks to Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food, for the photos):


In my book, I talk about research demonstrating that hardly anyone can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or between colas sweetened with table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.  I thought it would be fun to double check.

We asked participants to taste 6 unlabeled soda samples.


The six choices:  Coca-Cola, PepsiCola, Caleb soda, Coca-Cola Life, Mexican Coca-Cola, and a duplicate of Coca-Cola.

The idea was to see whether people could tell which was which and whether they could tell the difference between Coke made with high fructose corn syrup (regular Coke), table sugar (Mexican Coke), or Stevia (Coca-Cola Life).

38 people participated.  Here are the results:

  • Coca-Cola: this was identified correctly by 14/38, but only 10 correctly identified the duplicate.
  • Mexican Coca-Cola: 4/38
  • Coca-Cola Life: 17/38
  • Pepsi: 11/38
  • Caleb’s Cola: 29/38 (it’s color is distinctly different)

Only one person correctly identified all six.  I, alas, only got one right—Caleb’s.  It looks different and tastes less sweet.

You think you can do better?  Give it a try.

Nov 11 2015

San Francisco State vs. Pouring Rights Contracts

When I was in San Francisco last week, I met Janna Cordeiro and Real Food Challenge students from San Francisco State University (SFSU) who are taking on Big Soda.  As Janna explained in an e-mail,

Last spring, SFSU administration quietly released an RFP to solicit a corporate sponsor for Pouring Rights.

The Pouring Rights contract —for a 1 time minimum $2 Million donation and yearly $125K donation— not only includes 80% access to all drinks sold on campus, naming rights for the sports stadiums (and scholarships, seats, etc), access to students and alum for social media campaigns, access to STUDENT-owned campus center, and on and on BUT also an endowed chair in the school of the sponsor’s choice. Pepsi Professor anyone?

She points out that “The students believe that the release of the RFP violated important shared governance agreements that guide the campus, and that it was intentionally kept very low profile.”

She also notes that since San Francisco’s soda tax campaign, several high profile policies limiting SSBs have been passed:

1) City of SF has passed 2 important pieces of legislation: warning label requirements on ads,  ban on use of city funds to purchase ssbs (including the many contractors such as Department of Children Youth and Families), and ban on sub ads on city property

2) The SFUSD passed a comprehensive wellness policy which bans all sugary drinks sold or offered on school grounds including fundraisers/festivals/ and staff/teachers drinking.

3) Most major hospitals are SSB free INCLUDING all of UCSF campuses and our public hospital.

This means:

Essentially, SFSU and our City College Campuses are the only public spaces where SSBs are sold or advertised. So, we can’t let the SFSU administration go through with this, and this group of students from the Real Food Challenge SFSU are stepping up to fight back. Let’s join them and show our support!  They have already organized demonstrations when PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were on campus for their presentations, but have much more planned. The also have a 15 page resolution that covers ALL the bases!

And here’s her call to action:

What can you do?

  1. Sign the petition:   Lots of information on this page so it’s a great place to start. 
  1. Send them a letter of support for them to give the SFSU President Wong who has agreed to meet with them on Nov 19th in an open Town Hall mtg. email:
  1. If you’re local, attend the Town Hall meeting at 12noon on 11/19. Location TBD. Invite on Facebook.
  1. Follow on Facebook—  show your support and Tweet about it. I’ve been pushing out tweets on OpenTruthNow if you need ideas.
  1. If you have connections, help them get high visibility MEDIA attention. Contact me directly, and I can send you the media contact. for the group.

Let’s help them CRUSH Big Soda ! Student Rights not Pouring Rights!



November 13: The San Francisco Chronicle has a discussion of this action (I’m quoted)

November 19: The SFSU president drops the soda partnership proposal!


Nov 9 2015

University of Colorado returns Coca-Cola funding for Global Energy Balance Network

On Friday, the University of Colorado School of Medicine announced that it was giving back the $1 million that Coca-Cola had donated to fund the Global Energy Balance Network.

This is the group of scientists funded by Coca-Cola who were promoting activity as the best way to prevent obesity, but playing down any contribution of soft drinks and junk food to weight gain (see my post on this).

This is the fourth impressive result of the investigative report by Anahad O’Connor in the New York Times in August that revealed Coca-Cola’s funding of such initiatives.

  1. Coke’s chief executive, Muhtar Kent, disclosed that the company had spent almost $120 million since 2010 to pay for partnerships with medical and community health groups, and promised that the company would be more transparent.
  2. Coca-Cola set up a transparency website where it revealed the list of funded organizations.
  3. Coke ended its relationships with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy for Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Practice (or these groups pulled out—everyone seems to want to credit).
  4. Now this. Coke says it will donate the returned money to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

I am quoted in this story:

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, called the network “a front group” for Coca-Cola intended to promote the message that obesity is primarily caused by a lack of exercise, not by overconsumption of junk food.

On Friday, Dr. Nestle, the author of “Soda Politics,” said she was pleased that the university had returned the money.

“Both deserve congratulations for making a difficult but necessary decision,” said Dr. Nestle. “Let’s hope other groups also decide to do the right thing and end such financial relationships.”


Sep 22 2015

Coca-Cola’s transparency initiative

Sugars item #2 for this week (about half of the sugars in US diets come from sugar-sweetened beverages)

As promised in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in August, Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola, is making its funding transparent.  He said he “directed Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, to”

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.

True to his word, here is Coca-Cola’s commitment to transparency:

This makes interesting reading, to say the least.  Enjoy!


Sep 16 2015

Big Soda vs. public health in San Antonio

Dr. Thomas Schlenker, who directs San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health, asked the City Council to support a “drink less soda” campaign.

The City Council said no.  It fired Dr. Schlenker.

A representative of the Texas Beverage Association and Coca-Cola’s director of public affairs sit on the City Council and have veto power over its actions.

Schlenker says his firing is due to his outspoken critique of sugary drinks; the City Council says he’s just rude.

Maybe, but as Dr. Schlenker explains, Big Soda has donated millions to city government.

Says the Wall Street Journal,

One of the soft drink industry’s biggest challenges: constantly fighting the perception that soda is really bad for you. No matter how much money it spends on research or argues that exercise lowers obesity, the industry is playing a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. When it beats down critics in one place, they pop right back up in another.

Other cities, even in Texas, are looking for ways to slow down the rising prevalence of obesity.  Cutting out sugary drinks is a great first step.  Other cities should hire Dr. Schlenker.

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.

Page 1 of 912345...Last »