AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

NYT: Coca-Cola spends millions on obesity science that shifts blame from sugary drinks

Update: AJC reporter Leon Stafford has more on this story on our premium website. Food corporations are trying to "hijack the narrative to cause confusion" over the links between diet and obesity, one expert told him.

When scientists come forward to say a product is dangerous or unhealthy, big business pushes back by funding research that contradicts it. Remember the tobacco industry?

Now a New York Times article says that Atlanta’s sugary drink king Coca-Cola is spending millions of dollars to do just that. For years, the company has backed scientific research that shifts the blame for obesity away from bad diets. Now it’s even backing a new nonprofit to send this message:

“To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Virtually no compelling evidence? Try using that line on your doctor.

Coke critics told the Times that this public relations gambit is a response to plummeting soda consumption. Jurisdictions are moving to tax these beverages, and high school Coke machines are going the way of the high school smoking lounge.

“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

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