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Coca-Cola paid researchers to downplay sugar and obesity link

Scientists paid by Coca-Cola to downplay how damaging sugar can be for increasing obesity rates has been called a “low point in this history of public health”.

A newly published study reported in the Daily Mail has looked at a series of emails carried out between a group of academics called the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), which was set up to investigate why weight gain across America had increased.

The emails were obtained by the non-profit consumer and public health group, US Right to Know which applied for the documents using Freedom of Information requests.

The team, funded by the beverage company, helped promote the idea that lack of exercise was to blame for America’s obesity problem and not a bad diet.

The study findings stated that the emails “identified two main strategies” one of which used information and messaging that “could influence public health nutrition”.

The second strategy suggested that Coca-Cola made “significant efforts to divert attention from its role as a funding source”.

One of the emails about funding said: “We are certainly going to have to disclose this [Coca-Cola funding] at some point. Our preference would be to have other funders on board first…Right now, we have two funders. Coca Cola and an anonymous individual donor.”

Another email added: “We are managing some GEBN inquiries and while we disclose Coke as a sponsor we don’t want to disclose how much they gave.”

Gary Ruskin, executive director of US Right to Know, said: “This is a story about how Coke used public health academics to carry out classic tobacco tactics to protect its profits.

“It’s a low point in the history of public health, and a warning about the perils of accepting corporate funding for public health work.”

The researchers for the study looking into Coco-Cola concluded: “Coca-Cola sought to obscure its relationship with researchers, minimise the public perception of its role and use these researchers to promote industry-friendly messaging.

“More robust approaches for managing conflicts of interest are needed to address diffuse and obscured patterns of industry influence.”

The study was published in the Public Health Nutrition journal. Read more here.

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