by Marion Nestle

Search results: Coca Cola

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 17 2015

Coca-Cola’s partnership with cooperative scientists: a cartoonist’s take

Now cartoonists are producing their own interpretations of the revelations in the New York Times of Coca-Cola’s funding of scientists to argue that what you drink has far less to do with obesity than does how much you move.

In Sunday’s Times, Brian McFadden comes to this conclusion:
Capture2Here’s the entire strip

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The Global Calorie Balance Network (GEBN) scientists say they will have a response to all the criticism (and now ridicule).

GEBN welcomes the opportunity to engage in a global debate and discussion on the science and application of energy balance to promote health and reduce chronic disease. GEBN also welcomes scrutiny and constructive criticism. We respect our critics and ask that they respect us in return. The recent media attention has raised important issues about the goal and mission of GEBN. We have taken these comments very seriously and are in the process of clarifying these issues here on our website. We will have that information available early this week.

I look forward to seeing it.

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.

Aug 12 2015

Coca-Cola’s promotion of activity: a follow up

I’ve had a busy week dealing with the aftermath of Anahad O’Connor’s New York Times story about how Coca-Cola pays scientists who argue that obesity is more about activity than what you eat—drinking sodas, for example (I’m quoted).   It’s gotten 1180 comments.

Here’s Dan Wasserman’s from the Boston Globe:

In all fairness, let’s see what Coca-Cola’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Ed Hays, says in response (straight out of the tobacco industry’s playbook):

I was dismayed to read the recent New York Times’ inaccurate portrayal of our company and our support of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). The story claimed Coke is funding scientific research to convince people that diets don’t matter – only exercise. In fact, that is the complete opposite of our approach to business and well-being and nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, we fund scientific research through GEBN and we are proud to support the work that scientists such as Dr. Jim Hill and Dr. Steve Blair do – because their type of research is critical to finding solutions to the global obesity crisis.

At Coke, we believe that a balanced diet and regular exercise are two key ingredients for a healthy lifestyle and that is reflected in both our long-term and short-term business actions.

The article even got the attention of Congress.  Here’s the statement from Rosa de Lauro (Dem-CT), sponsor of The SWEET Act to tax sugars:

This research is reminiscent of the research conducted by the tobacco companies to mislead the public about the health risks of smoking.  The American public will not be fooled. There is a wealth of sound scientific research that demonstrates the link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and a host of health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  This new group and their research are a sham,” DeLauro said.  “People want to be healthy and they want their kids to be healthy and realize that drinks full of empty calories are not good for them. That is why more and more Americans are opting to drink less soda every year.

I wrote a piece for The Guardian, which I will post tomorrow.

I don’t keep track of my interviews or media appearances unless people send me links (I post them under Media), but Rachel Harrison at NYU kept score yesterday.  As I said, a busy couple of days.

Additions, August 14

Fox News, August 11

  • Shepard Smith says “the story “reminds you of exactly what the tobacco industry did back in day, and more recently, it also reminds you of what the climate deniers — the climate change deniers — are doing as well.”
  • Rush Limbaugh said the Times‘ Coca-Cola story “undermine[s] the whole notion of a scientific consensus,” because it “can be bought and paid for.”

New York Times editorial, August 14

the evidence continues to mount that sugar-sweetened drinks are a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and that exercise makes only a modest contribution to weight loss compared to ingesting fewer calories.

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.

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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.

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

 

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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:

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And here’s another:

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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?

Oct 3 2014

Where to find Coca-Cola Life in Mexico? In the produce section, of course.

I’m in Mexico City and María Verónica Flores Bello, who teaches at a university here, gave me this photo taken at a Selecto supermarket.  It, she says, is Coca-Cola’s “brand new green Coca Cola, sweetened with stevia and sugar, as healthy and fresh as eating vegetables….”la foto

Here’s the label:

coca cola life

Soon to a supermarket near you?  Only if Mexicans buy it.

I’ll explain what these labels mean on Monday,

Happy weekend.