by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coca-Cola

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):

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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:

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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?

Mar 18 2015

Dietitians in turmoil over conflicts of interest: it’s about time

My e-mail inbox is filled with items about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, formerly the American Dietetic Association).  Its “seal of approval” on Kraft cheese singles (as discussed in an earlier post) was embarrassing—so embarrassing that it was discussed by Jon Stewart: “The Academy is an Academy in the same way this [Kraft Singles] is cheese” (the clip starts at 4:37).

The Onion also had some fun with this.

But now there is even more about how food companies buy the opinions of dietitians.

Candice Choi writes about how Coca-Cola pays dietitians to promote its drinks as healthy snacks (for an example of one of the paid posts, click here).  She explains that the dietitians

wrote online posts for American Heart Month, with each including a mini-can of Coke or soda as a snack idea. The pieces — which appeared on nutrition blogs and other sites including those of major newspapers — offer a window into the many ways food companies work behind the scenes to cast their products in a positive light, often with the help of third parties who are seen as trusted authorities.

Ms. Choi quotes a Coca-Cola spokesman:

“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” said Sheidler, who declined to say how much the company pays experts. “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.”

Other companies including Kellogg and General Mills have used strategies like providing continuing education classes for dietitians, funding studies that burnish the nutritional images of their products and offering newsletters for health experts. PepsiCo Inc. has also worked with dietitians who suggest its Frito-Lay and Tostito chips in local TV segments on healthy eating.

These are individual actions.  But at last the dietetic membership is objecting to the Academy’s partnership with Kraft.

  1. They have started a Change.org petition to #RepealTheSeal.
  2. The President of the New York State AND chapter (NYSAND), Molly Morgan, sent out a note in support of the petition.

Thank you to the many of you that have expressed your concern and disappointment about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partnership with Kraft. This issue has been reviewed carefully by the NYSAND Board of Directors and the entire board is in support of actively taking steps to share our members concerns. Below are the action steps that NYSAND is taking:

–       Last week (March 11, 2015) the NYSAND Sponsorship Task Force recommendations were received and yesterday (March 16, 2015) at the March NYSAND Board of Directors meeting the Sponsorship Task Force recommendations were reviewed. Please stay tuned for more updates and note that a motion will be forth coming this week for the board to take the next step in addressing sponsorship for NYSAND.

–       Today (March 17, 2015) a letter was sent to the Academy president and emailed to several Academy leaders expressing the views that our members have shared and that as an Affiliate we are not comfortable responding with the talking points provided by the Academy on this issue.

–       Dietitians have started a petition, “Repeal the Seal”; NYSAND will be sharing this on our Affiliate Facebook and Twitter pages and encourages all members who share the concern to sign the petition as well. CLICK HERE to sign the petition.

3.  The AND national CEO, Patricia M. Babjak, sent out this letter to members, also on March 17:

Let me begin by apologizing for the concerns caused by the education initiative with Kraft. The Academy and the Foundation are listening. As a member-driven organization, the Academy’s staff and leadership hear your concerns and welcome your input.

Unfortunately, recent news articles misstated a collaboration as a Kids Eat Right “endorsement” of Kraft Singles, and that it represents a “seal of approval” from Kids Eat Right, the Foundation, or the Academy. It is not an endorsement. It is not a seal of approval. We understand this distinction is of little consequence to many Academy members who are concerned with the perception. We are working on a solution.

In addition, we are working to establish a joint, member-driven Member Advisory Panel. This Panel will work closely with both Boards to:

  • Establish dialogue with members
  • Gather input and give feedback on member issues
  • Make specific recommendations

Recognizing sponsorship as a significant issue of concern among members, the House of Delegates leadership team, who also serve on the Board of Directors, scheduled a dialogue on sponsorship for the upcoming virtual House of Delegates meeting, May 3. We encourage all members to reach out to your delegates and share your thoughts on the benefits of, concerns about and suggestions for the sponsorship program. The Academy and Foundation Boards are looking forward to your input.

Applause to members who are speaking out.

As I said in an interview with TakePart:

The food companies have learned from tobacco and drugs and other industries like that how to play this game…Let’s confuse the science, let’s cast doubt on the science, let’s shoot the messenger, let’s sow confusion.

But since everyone has to eat, the food industry has been given a pass on its pay-to-play practices….

The capital N news…is that dietitians are fighting back at last.

I hope they join Dietitians for Professional Integrity and insist that the leadership respond to their concerns.

AdditionA dietitian sends this communication from the Executive Board of the California Dietetic Association to members about the Kraft situation:

We would like to direct your attention to what the California Dietetic Association (CDA) has done to address our own issues surrounding sponsorship. We heard your concerns regarding CDA Annual Conference sponsorship and we have listened. We voted and McDonalds was not invited as a sponsor in 2015. This decision has impacted our finances; however, we believe it was important to respond to our member feedback. In addition, an ad hoc committee approved by the CDA executive board, reevaluated the sponsorship guidelines. The new sponsorship policy will be posted soon on www.dietitian.org.

Jan 12 2015

Drink less soda? Coke cuts jobs.

That Coca-Cola is cutting between 1600 and 1800 jobs in the next few months, 500 of them in Atlanta (Coke’s home town), is big news.

Why is Coke doing this?  According to the New York Times, the company says:

  • “to streamline our business”
  • “to help fund the stepped-up marketing it believes is needed to drive up beverage sales”  (oh, great)

IBTimes offers another reason:

And as the Wall Street Journal explains, “Austerity is the new flavor at Coca-Cola”:

Atlanta-based Coke plans to ax at least 1,000 to 2,000 jobs globally in the coming weeks, the biggest thinning of its ranks in 15 years. It is also introducing stricter budgeting, telling executives to swap limousines for taxis, and dropped its lavish Christmas party for Wall Street analysts.  The moves are part of a $3 billion cost-cutting plan Coke announced in October after warning it would miss profit targets this year and next as consumers drink less soda, for decades its cash cow. The austerity push is a culture shock for a company that traditionally has grown, not shrunk, its way to prosperity.

The business press is much less interested in the health benefits that will accrue as a result.  These don’t count on Wall Street.

They should.