by Marion Nestle

Search results: Coca Cola

Jul 27 2017

The CDC Nominee’s Links to Coca-Cola

Last Sunday’s New York Times had a front-page story on Coca-Cola’s relationship to the current nominee for director of the CDC.  I’m quoted in it and soon got this request:

Good morning, Marion:

I saw this Times news coverage in which you’re quoted.

Given this news about reversing the CDC’s position on aligning with the private sector on sugar sweetened beverages, I’m wondering if you’d be game to elaborate on this and provide your perspective on it.

Sure.  Happy to.

The New York Times story on Coca-Cola’s connections to Brenda Fitzgerald, President Trump’s nominee to head the CDC, goes right into the book I’m writing.  The book is about food, beverage, and supplement industry funding of nutrition research and practice and with luck will be published by Basic Books late in 2018.

Fitzgerald was health commissioner for the state of Georgia and at first glance looks well qualified to head the CDC.  But a health advocacy group, US Right to Know, has had a long-standing interest in Coca-Cola’s cozy relationships with CDC—both Coke and CDC are in Atlanta, after all—and at some point obtained emails through FOIA that explain just how cozy.

Here’s what especially got my attention in the Times article :

  • While she was health commissioner, Fitzgerald accepted a million-dollar grant from Coca-Cola for an obesity program focused exclusively on physical activity—for sure, not on the health benefits of drinking less Coke (focusing on physical activity has long been a deliberate strategy of this company).
  • People associated with the activity program said “Coke had no influence over the program.”  Of course that’s what they think.  Much research shows that recipients of industry funding do not recognize the influence.  Such influence is unintentional, unconscious, and invariably denied.
  • When the previous CDC director, Tom Frieden, canceled Coca-Cola’s funding of obesity programs (he said it was unjustifiable “to have Coca-Cola run an obesity campaign that had an exclusive focus on physical activity), he asked company officials if they would be willing to fund something in “neutral space” like transportation or water programs.  Not a chance.

Food, beverage, and supplement companies are happy to fund research with a high probability of supporting marketing objectives.   Industry-funded research almost invariably comes out with results favorable to the sponsor’s commercial interests.

It’s unreasonable to expect otherwise.  Food companies are not public health agencies; they are businesses expected to generate profits and returns to shareholders—that is their #1 priority.

The moral for public health: don’t take the money.

 

 

 

Jan 5 2017

Coca-Cola and ABA sued over misleading science

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sent out a press release yesterday to announce a lawsuit filed on behalf of the nonprofit Praxis Project.

The complaint says Coca-Cola and its trade association, the American Beverage Association (ABA), mislead the public when they trash the science linking sugary drinks to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the like.

It cites the August 2015 account in the New York Times of Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network, which aimed to shift attention from poor diets as a cause of obesity to lack of physical exercise.  Coca-Cola spent $120 million on research from 2010 to 2015 that could cast doubt on evidence linking health risks to sugary drinks.

It also cites quotations from officials of Coca-Cola and the ABA and researchers they fund “making false and deceptive statements about sugar-sweetened drinks.”  For example:

  • Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, Katie Bayne, claims that “[t]here is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.
  • “Simply put, it is wrong to say beverages cause disease,” the ABA stated in another release.
  • One of the scientists funded by Coca-Cola, Dr. Steven Blair, stated that “there is really virtually no compelling evidence” that sugar drinks are linked to the obesity epidemic.

The complaint also charges that Coca-Cola paid dietitians to promote sugary drinks; it quotes one dietitian who suggested that an eight-ounce soda could be a healthy snack, like “packs of almonds.”

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit fares.  Stay tuned.

Oct 19 2016

Coca-Cola Europe’s policy agenda, courtesy of WikiLeaks

Ninjas for Health posts this graphic from someplace in the emails leaked to DCLeaks (it’s good they are going through them so we don’t have to).  

The Ninjas point out that Coke divides the policies into three categories based on likelihood of happening and impact on sales:

  • Fight back
  • Monitor
  • Prepare

The policy with the biggest impact greatest likelihood of materializing?  Increased soda taxes.

No wonder soda companies are fighting back against them.

Nancy Huehnergarth pointed out in an email that a ban on advertising to children under the age of 12 shows up in the “Prepare” category, even though soda companies insist that they do not advertise to young children.

It’s interesting to see what Coca-Cola thinks has a high likelihood of happening: Protectionism against sugar imports, mandatory environmental labels, emission reduction targets, and the mysterious “provisions for lobbying.”

The company has a lot to worry about, apparently.

May 9 2016

Coca-Cola items: Warren Buffett’s gaffe. Share a Coke and a Song.

Warren Buffett, the billionnaire who owns 9.3% of Coca-Cola stock, understandably defends its products.  When challenged by shareholders in his company, Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett said:

He also said he drank 700 calories worth of Coca-Cola each day (translation: 44 teaspoons of sugars).  As Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest put it, this much sugar is not in the interest of anyone’s health.

Maybe the Wizard of Omaha can maintain good health while consuming more than three times the added sugars recommended by the nation’s leading health officials, but it’s a sure-fire prescription for increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay for the rest of his fellow citizens…the American Heart Association whose scientific panels have reviewed the evidence as well call for an even more conservative daily limit of added sugars: six teaspoons for women and nine for men.

Business analysts were just as dismayed.   said in the Financial Times that Buffett made five mistakes in laughing off the CocaCola question (my paraphrases):

  • Shareholders asked a serious question that deserved a serious answer.
  • Not everyone knows how many calories are in sodas.
  • Poor people are at greater risk from the hazards of sugary drinks.
  • Politicians know that sugary drinks are a problem.
  • Coca-Cola knows sugary drinks are a problem.

In the meantime, the Berkeley Media Studies Group has produced its take on Coke’s new “Share a Coke and a Song” campaign:

When health advocates and the business community think Coca-Cola is in trouble, it is.

Can this campaign survive satire?

This company’s responses are always interesting to follow.  Buffett is a big investor.  But it is increasingly having to respond to health concerns.

I will be watching for the next chapter in this saga.

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Dec 22 2015

Coca-Cola reveals who it funds in England—organizations, researchers, other individuals

Last Friday, Coca-Cola UK joined its US counterpart in revealing the names of the organizations, researchers, and individuals it funds and the amounts it pays for these services.

As Jon Woods, General Manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland, explains:

Earlier this year, my colleagues in the US published a list of the health and wellbeing partnerships, research and individuals funded there, dating back to 2010. In October, I committed to do the same and today we have published the details of what we have funded in Great Britain.  I believe this is the right thing to do…The total amount of funding we have provided in GB since 2010 is £9,328,095.

Like the US list, which has been analyzed extensively by Ninjas for Health, this one is interesting to read.

Here is a small sample from the list of organizations:

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council — £20,000
  • British Dietetic Association — £5,600
  • British Feeding & Drinking Group Annual Meeting — £1,200
  • British Nutrition Foundation — £33,000

A sample from the list of scientists and other individuals (not otherwise identified, alas):

  • Fiona Hunter
  • Prof. Ken Fox
  • Lynne Garton
  • Dr. Geoffrey Livesey
  • Dr. Sigrid Gibson
  • Dr. David Haslam
  • Prof. Marion Hetherington
  • Penny Hunking
  • Angie Jefferson
  • Prof. Ian Macdonald

I’m sure British public health advocates will have fun looking up what these people have said about sugary drinks and obesity.

The Times of London explained who some of them are:

The advisers include Stuart Biddle, of Loughborough University, who was chairman of a health department group on obesity in 2010; Alan Boobis, a director at Public Health England, who stopped receiving funding in 2013; Ken Fox, who advised the government on obesity in 2009; and Carrie Ruxton, now on the board of Food Standards Scotland. In 2010 Dr Ruxton co-wrote a study sponsored by the UK Sugar Bureau, an industry group, that found no proven association between sugar intake and obesity.

According to Der Spiegel, Coca-Cola plans to reveal everyone it sponsors in Europe.  All of this is further fallout from August’s New York Times’ revelations of Coca-Cola sponsorship of the now defunct Global Energy Balance Network.

More to come, no doubt.  Stay tuned.

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.”

Next?

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!

 

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