Kathlyn Stone, Health News Review, March 28, 2018
Two new academic articles published this month lend fresh insights into how Coca-Cola fueled its corporate interests through a front group and abused accepted transparency practices through dodgy disclosures of clinical trial conflicts of interest.
In a report published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (JECH),Coca-Cola officials’ own words establish that their intent in funding the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a non-profit organization nominally devoted to promoting education and science, was to advance the corporate bottom line.
Internal Coca-Cola documents show that the company sought to portray GEBN as “an honest broker” in the obesity debate, and use it to-reframe the discussion on the causes of obesity. It would be a multi-faceted campaign that lobbied policymakers, funded researchers and clinical trials and “educated” health journalists and bloggers about the “energy balance” concept. GEBN’s interpretation of that concept has been widely criticized as shifting blame for the obesity crisis away from Coke’s signature sugary drinks.
Coca-Cola directly funded GEBN to the tune of $1.5 million, with millions more distributed to GEBN-affiliated academics to conduct research. It disbanded in 2015, but not before funding hundreds of suspect clinical trials.
In their own words
Thanks to a state Freedom of Information request made to the University of Colorado, a consumer and public health advocacy group called US Right to Know (USRTK) obtained internal documents describing Coca-Cola’s motivation for launching the GEBN. Gary Ruskin, USRTK’s co-director, together with public health and policy experts, have described the content of those documents in the JECH article and in other academic and scientific journals.
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