Conversations Between Coca-Cola and the CDC

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Milbank Quarterly: Public Meets Private: Conversations Between Coca-Cola and the CDC, by Nason Maani Hessari, Gary Ruskin, Martin McKee and David Stuckler (1.29.19)

Conclusion: “The emails we obtained using FOIA requests reveal efforts by Coca-Cola to lobby the CDC to advance corporate objectives rather than health, including to influence the World Health Organization. Our findings provide a rare example of the ways in which corporate interests attempt to influence public health practitioners ‘in their own words,’ and they demonstrate a need for clearer policies on avoiding partnerships with manufacturers of harmful products.”

USRTK News Release: Study Shows Coca-Cola’s Efforts to Influence CDC on Diet and Obesity (1.29.19)

The U.S. Right to Know Food Industry Collection, containing Coca-Cola emails with the CDC, is posted in the free, searchable UCSF Food Industry Documents Archive.

Congresswomen call for investigation

News Release: Pingree, DeLauro to HHS Inspector General: Investigate Coca-Cola’s Lobbying of CDC (2.4.19)

Letter to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson (2.4.19)

Salon: Two congresswomen want an investigation into CDC’s crooked relationship with Coca-Cola, by Nicole Karlis (2.5.19)

News coverage of Milbank Quarterly study

Washington Post: Coca-Cola Emails Reveal How Soda Industry Tries to Influence Health Officials, by Paige Winfield Cunningham (1.29.19)

Associated Press: Food industry sway over public health gets new scrutiny, by Candace Choi (1.29.19)

Politico: Coca-Cola Tried to Influence CDC on Research and Policy, New Report States, by Jesse Chase-Lubitz (1.29.19)

CNN: Old emails hold new clues to Coca-Cola and CDC’s controversial relationship, by Jacqueline Howard (1.29.19)

BMJ: Coca-Cola and obesity: study shows efforts to influence US Centers for Disease Control, by Gareth Iacobucci (1.30.19)

Salon: New emails reveal CDC employees were doing the bidding of Coca-Cola, by Nicole Karlis (2.1.19)

Mother Jones: Study: Emails Show How Coca-Cola Tried to Influence Global Health Policy, by Kari Sonde (2.1.19)

Atlanta Constitution Journal: Coke and CDC, Atlanta icons, share cozy relationship, emails show, by Alan Judd (2.6.19)

Related journal and news articles

BMJ: Conflicts of interest compromise US public health agency’s mission, say scientists, by Jeanne Lenzer (10.24.16)

Science: U.S. lawmakers want NIH and CDC foundations to say more about donors, by Jeffrey Mervis (6.29.18)

BMJ: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protecting the Private Good? By Jeanne Lenzer (5.15.15)

Type Investigations: Firm Pays Government to Challenge Pesticide Research, by Sheila Kaplan (3.1.11)

BMJ: US public health agency sued over failure to release emails from Coca-Cola, by Martha Rosenberg (2.28.18)

San Diego Union Tribune: UCSD hires Coke-funded health researcher, by Morgan Cook (9.29.16)

More reporting on Coca-Cola’s influence

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health: Science organisations and Coca-Cola’s ‘war’ with the public health community: insights from an internal industry document, by Pepita Barlow, Paulo Serôdio, Gary Ruskin, Martin McKee and David Stuckler (3.14.18)

Critical Public Health: How food companies influence evidence and opinion — straight from the horse’s mouth, by Gary Sacks, Boyd A. Swinburn, Adrian J. Cameron and Gary Ruskin (9.13.17)

Environmental Health News: Coca-Cola’s “war” with the public health community, by Gary Ruskin (4.3.18)

BMJ: Coca-Cola’s secret influence on medical and science journalists, by Paul Thacker (4.5.17)

Politico: Trump’s top health official traded tobacco stock while leading anti-smoking efforts, by Sarah Karlin-Smith and Brianna Ehley (1.30.18)

New York Times: New C.D.C. Chief Saw Coca-Cola as Ally in Obesity Fight, by Sheila Kaplan (7.22.17)

Associated Press: Emails reveal Coke’s role in anti-obesity group, by Candice Choi (11.24.15) and Excerpts from emails between Coke and Global Energy Balance Network

New York Times: Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets, by Anahad O’Connor (8.9.15)

News articles by U.S. Right to Know staff

The Hill: What is going on at the CDC? Health agency ethics need scrutiny, by Carey Gillam (8.27.16)

Huffington Post: More Coca-Cola Ties Seen Inside U.S. Centers For Disease Control, by Carey Gillam (8.1.16)

Huffington Post: CDC Official Exits Agency After Coca-Cola Connections Come to Light, by Carey Gillam (6.30.16)

Huffington Post: Beverage Industry Finds Friend Inside U.S. Health Agency, by Carey Gillam (6.28.16)

Forbes: The Coca-Cola Network: Soda Giant Mines Connections With Officials And Scientists To Wield Influence, by Rob Waters (7.11.17)

Forbes: Trump’s Pick To Head CDC Partnered With Coke, Boosting Agency’s Longstanding Ties To Soda Giant, by Rob Waters (7.10.17)

U.S. Right to Know is a plaintiff in a FOIA lawsuit regarding CDC

CrossFit and U.S. Right to Know are suing the Department of Health and Human Services seeking records about why the Foundation for the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Foundation) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (NIH Foundation) have not disclosed donor information as required by law. (10.4.18)

Coca-Cola/ILSI influence on CDC in China

New York Times: How Chummy Are Junk Food Giants and China’s Health Officials? They Share Offices, by Andrew Jacobs (1.9.19)

Journal of Public Health Policy: Soda industry influence on obesity science and policy in China, by Susan Greenhalgh (1.9.19)

BMJ: Making China safe for Coke: how Coca-Cola shaped obesity science and policy in China, by Susan Greenhalgh (1.9.19)

BMJ: The hidden power of corporations, by Martin McKee, Sarah Steele and David Stuckler (1.9.19)

CDC FOIA document batches

(1) CDC Bowman Malaspina

(2) CDC Janet Collins

(3) CDC Culbertson Ryan Liburd Galuska

(4) CDC Bowman Stokes 2018

Additional documents

(1) CDC SPIDER letter

(2) Three Barbara Bowman emails

CDC SPIDER: Scientists complain of corporate influence at health agency

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By Carey Gillam

Concerns about the inner workings of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been mounting in recent months amid disclosures of cozy corporate alliances. Now a group of more than a dozen senior scientists have reportedly lodged an ethics complaint alleging the federal agency is being influenced by corporate and political interests in ways that short-change taxpayers.

A group calling itself CDC Scientists Preserving Integrity, Diligence and Ethics in Research, or CDC SPIDER, put a list of complaints in writing in a letter to the CDC Chief of Staff and provided a copy of the letter to the public watchdog organization U.S. Right to Know (USRTK). The members of the group have elected to file the complaint anonymously for fear of retribution.

“It appears that our mission is being influenced and shaped by outside parties and rogue interests… and Congressional intent for our agency is being circumvented by some of our leaders. What concerns us most, is that it is becoming the norm and not the rare exception,” the letter states. “These questionable and unethical practices threaten to undermine our credibility and reputation as a trusted leader in public health.”

The complaint cites among other things a “cover up” of the poor performance of a women’s health program called the Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Woman Across the Nation, or WISEWOMAN. The program provides standard preventive services to help 40- to 64-year-old women reduce their risks for heart disease, and promote healthy lifestyles. CDC currently funds 21 WISEWOMAN programs through states and tribal organizations. The complaint alleges there was a coordinated effort within the CDC to misrepresent data given to Congress so that it appeared the program was involving more women than it actually was.

“Definitions were changed and data ‘cooked’ to make the results look better than they were,” the complaint states. “An ‘internal review’ that involved staff across CDC occurred and its findings were essentially suppressed so media and/or Congressional staff would not become aware of the problems.”
The letter mentions that Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, who has been a proponent of the program, has made inquiries to CDC regarding the data. A spokesman for her office, confirmed as much.

The complaint also alleges that staff resources that are supposed to be dedicated to domestic programs for Americans are instead being directed to work on global health and research issues.

And the complaint cites as “troubling” the ties between soft drink giant Coca-Cola Co., an advocacy group backed by Coca-Cola, and two high-ranking CDC officials – Dr. Barbara Bowman who directed the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention until retiring in June, and Dr. Michael Pratt, senior Advisor for Global Health in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) at the CDC.

Bowman, retired after revelations of what the complaint called an “irregular” relationship with Coca-Cola and the nonprofit corporate interest group set up by Coca-Cola called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Email communications obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by USRTK revealed that in her CDC role, Bowman had been communicating regularly with – and offering guidance to – a leading Coca-Cola advocate seeking to influence world health authorities on sugar and beverage policy matters.

Emails also suggested that Pratt has a history of promoting and helping lead research funded by Coca-Cola while being employed by the CDC. Pratt also has been working closely with ILSI, which advocates for the agenda of beverage and food industries, emails obtained through FOIA showed. Several research papers co-written by Pratt were at least partly funded by Coca-Cola, and Pratt has received industry funding to attend industry-sponsored events and conferences.

Last month, Pratt took a position as Director of the University of California San Diego Institute for Public Health. Next month, ILSI is partnering with the UCSD to hold a forum related to “energy balance behavior,” planned for November 30 to December 1 of this year. One of the moderators is another CDC scientist, Janet Fulton, Chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch. Pratt is on annual leave from the CDC during his stint in San Diego, according to the CDC.

The forum fits into the messaging of “energy balance” that Coca-Cola has been pushing. Consumption of sugar-laden foods and beverages is not to blame for obesity or other health problems; a lack of exercise is the primary culprit, the theory goes.

Experts in the nutrition arena have said that the relationships are troubling because the mission of the CDC is protecting public health, and yet certain CDC officials appear to be close with an industry that, studies say, is linked to about 180,000 deaths per year worldwide, including 25,000 in the United States. The CDC is supposed to be addressing rising obesity rates among children, not advancing beverage industry interests.

CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben would not address what the agency might be doing, if anything, in response to the SPIDER complaint, but she said the agency makes use of a “full range of federal ethics statutes, regulations, and policies” that apply to all federal employees.”

“CDC takes seriously its responsibility to comply with the ethics rules, inform employees about them, and take steps to make it right any time we learn that employees aren’t in compliance,” Harben said. “We provide regular training to and communicate with staff on how to comply with ethics requirements and avoid violations.”

The SPIDER group complaint ends with a plea for CDC management to address the allegations; to “do the right thing.”

Let’s hope someone is listening.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post