Coca-Cola has been called out for funding of health-related research without disclosing it.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) lifted the lid on a covertly funded series of obesity conferences across the United States as a way to push Coca-Cola’s own agenda.
BMJ claimed that industry money was used by Coca-Cola in a cover effort to influence journalists into reporting that it was a lack of exercise and not a high sugar intake that contributed to the obesity epidemic.
Documents obtained under the freedom of information laws showed that Coca-Cola used their funding to influence journalists to write favourable press coverage about sugar sweetened drinks.
Assistant professor in the faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa Yoni Freedhoff said that “for Coca-Cola the ‘energy balance’ message has been a crucial one to cultivate, as its underlying inference is that, even for soda drinkers, obesity is more a consequence of inactivity than it is of regularly drinking liquid candy”.
A US spokesperson for Coca-Cola said that the organisation had been implementing new principles regarding the funding of scientific research.
“Our previous support of such research produced scientifically valid results, but we recognised an opportunity to avoid some of the questions that result when we are the sole funder,” the spokesperson said.
“Under our new guiding principles, we will not provide, either directly or through a third party (such as a trade association), all of the funding for well-being scientific research.
“We will instead provide financial support for such research only if a non-Coca-Cola entity funds at least 50 percent of the cost.”
It has also been reported that over a five-year period Coca-Cola spent $1.7 million funding Australian research relating to health, nutrition and physical activity.
In regards to these reports, the President of Coca-Cola South Pacific Roberto Mercade said in a statement published on it’s website last month that the Coca-Cola Company in the US had committed to publishing health and wellbeing partnerships they had supported backing dating to 2010.
“I committed to do the same for the Australian market and in 2016 we published the details of what we have funded, which we have since updated in 2017,” he said.
“I believe this is the right thing to do. I also think it is important to understand why we have decided to share this information in one location.
“We have financially supported partnerships and research with third-party experts to improve our understanding of the role our drinks play in people’s diets and the benefits of physical activity, alongside a balanced diet.”
He also said that he acknowledged questioning regarding whether the work was appropriate and sufficiently open, and whether Coca-Cola had best explained its involvement.
“Since 2010, we have provided AU$1,777,766 to fund health and wellbeing scientific research and health and wellbeing partnerships,” he said.
“Most of the funding in Australia goes to our partnership programs with charities, public sector and not-for-profit organisations.”
The Coca-Cola Company said that they hoped their transparency would provide clarity in regards to the research that they fund in an effort to better understand the role its drinks play in people’s diets.