Is Coca-Cola trying to pull a fast one on us? From a corporation believed to be a key contributor to diabetes, hypertension and the growing obesity epidemic in America (not to mention developing countries), the last thing you’d expect is them to operate an independent health initiative on the side—that is until you look a little closer.    

Coca-Cola recently disclosed that over the past five years they have donated $118.6 million in health-research funding to groups such as the American Academy of Physicians, the American College of Cardiology and the American Academy of Pediatrics. And why wouldn’t they donate to health research on sugary soda drinks? A bit of a head-scratcher.

The corporation published a transparency pledge in response to a New York Times article that revealed the organization had been quietly funding research that would scapegoat a lack of exercise as the major cause of obesity rather than too many calories (this seems shady even for Coca-Cola).

The statement written by Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, underscored the company’s philanthropic efforts for the public good. Even so, the conflict of interest is paramount. The report showed that some of the organizations that accepted donations also supported a lawsuit against New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s citywide ban on large, sugary beverages, which, alas, didn’t pass.

“These organizations are forming partnerships with a company whose products are absolutely thought to be a major player in obesity and the spread of chronic, noncommunicable diseases,” Yoni Freedhoff, MD, CCFP, obesity expert at the University of Ottawa, told The New York Times. “Why in this day and age would a public health organization create even the possibility for there to be influence that might affect their ability to champion and promote public health?”

The answer may very well boil down to the fact that health organizations just really need the money. But, Freedhoff remains suspect. According to The New York Times, he was astounded by the number of community and medical organizations accepting such large donations despite their core missions to promote health and wellness.

The unfolding of events is a subtle reminder of the need for health education and transparency in the U.S., and how politics can make its way into our fridge. If you’ve already been trying to quit drinking Coke products, hopefully this new information will make it easier for you to turn your head. What do you think about this secret funding by Coca-Cola? What do you think their motive is?  

Sources:

  1. The New York Times: Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets
  2. Vox: Coke Research Funding
  3. Coca-Cola: Transparency
  4. Coca-Cola: Transparency Search