Coke, Pepsi fund health groups... but fight them too

Qui­etly fight­ing anti-obe­sity mea­sures

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the two ma­jor US soda gi­ants, have given mil­lions of dol­lars to health or­ga­ni­za­tions while qui­etly fight­ing an­tiobe­sity mea­sures such as taxes on soft drinks, a new study shows.

The Coca-Cola Co and Pep­siCo, from 2011 to 2015, spon­sored 96 na­tional health or­ga­ni­za­tions bat­tling pub­lic health prob­lems such as obe­sity, di­a­betes and heart dis­ease, said the re­search pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Medicine. Dur­ing the same pe­riod, the two soda com­pa­nies lob­bied against 29 pub­lic health bills in­tended to re­duce soda con­sump­tion or im­prove nu­tri­tion. “Th­ese com­pa­nies lob­bied against pub­lic health in­ter­ven­tion in 97 per­cent of cases, call­ing into ques­tion a sin­cere com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the pub­lic’s health,” said the study’s au­thors Daniel Aaron and Michael Siegel of Bos­ton Univer­sity. “By ac­cept­ing fund­ing from th­ese com­pa­nies, health or­ga­ni­za­tions are in­ad­ver­tently par­tic­i­pat­ing in their mar­ket­ing plans,” they warned.

Most of the re­cip­i­ents of the com­pa­nies’ largesse were pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions, while some were part of the US fed­eral gov­ern­ment, such as the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC). The do­na­tions have be­come larger in re­cent years, along­side mount­ing pub­lic health cam­paigns link­ing soft drinks to the coun­try’s ris­ing obe­sity lev­els-related to a grow­ing preva­lence of di­a­betes.

Coca-Cola re­cently re­vealed it had spent more than $120 mil­lion since 2010, fi­nanc­ing sci­en­tific stud­ies, part­ner­ships with groups fight­ing obe­sity and lob­by­ing. Ac­cord­ing to The Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics-an in­de­pen­dent, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion-Pep­siCo on av­er­age has spent $3 mil­lion a year on lob­by­ing since 2011.

Sweet­en­ing their im­age

By sup­port­ing health or­ga­ni­za­tions, the com­pa­nies are try­ing to im­prove their good­will im­age with the pub­lic to dis­tract from their lob­by­ing ef­forts. “By be­ing able to say they part­ner with so many health or­ga­ni­za­tions, they are able to cre­ate this im­age that they are ac­tu­ally con­tribut­ing to pub­lic health,” Siegel said in a phone in­ter­view.

That di­verts at­ten­tion away from the fact that “their prod­ucts are con­tribut­ing to what is a ter­ri­ble obe­sity epi­demic,” he said. About 35 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults are obese, and 69 per­cent are over­weight, ac­cord­ing to 2012 of­fi­cial data. Spend­ing on treat­ments linked to obe­sity ac­counted for a fifth of the coun­try’s health care spend­ing.

For Keith-Thomas Ay­oob, a di­eti­cian and pro­fes­sor at Yeshiva Univer­sity, the source of the fund­ing is not as im­por­tant as what is done with it. “I think there is a place for proper fund­ing from in­dus­tries,” he said. “I am only con­cerned that the fund­ings go to­wards the ef­forts that ben­e­fit con­sumers,” he said, giving as an ex­am­ple help­ing peo­ple bet­ter man­age di­a­betes.

Big Soda lob­by­ing

But Coca-Cola and Pep­siCo en­gage in in­tense lob­by­ing to kill any leg­is­la­tion against soft drinks, the study points out, putting the spon­sored health or­ga­ni­za­tions in a po­si­tion of con­flict of in­ter­est.

That is the case of Save the Chil­dren, to which Coca-Cola and Pep­siCo gave more than $5 mil­lion in 2009. A year later, the non­profit with­drew its sup­port of a tax for soft drinks, a key mea­sure backed by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion to fight obe­sity and di­a­betes. Con­tacted by AFP, the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­fused to say whether it was still tak­ing money from both com­pa­nies.

The Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics (AND) and the NAACP, the na­tion’s lead­ing African Amer­i­can civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, op­posed a pro­posal by for­mer New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to re­duce the size of soda cans in 2012, after they re­ceived money from the two drinks com­pa­nies. The AND, which broke off its ties to the two, told AFP it had ac­cepted the money “to en­able the Academy to reach a wider con­sumer au­di­ence with healthy eat­ing mes­sages.”

The NAACP did not respond to AFP re­quests for com­ment. Rhona Ap­ple­baum, Coca-Cola’s chief sci­ence and health of­fi­cer, was forced out in late 2015 after re­ports that she helped set up the non­profit the Global En­ergy Bal­ance Net­work, which down­played the role of sug­ary drinks in obe­sity and em­pha­sized ex­er­cise. “We may dis­agree with some in the pub­lic health com­mu­nity on dis­crim­i­na­tory and re­gres­sive taxes and poli­cies on our prod­ucts,” said the Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion (ABA).

“But, we be­lieve our ac­tions in com­mu­ni­ties and the mar­ket­place are con­tribut­ing to ad­dress­ing the com­plex chal­lenge of obe­sity,” said the in­dus­try lobby, whose mem­bers in­clude Coca-Cola and Pep­siCo.

Con­tacted by AFP, Coca-Cola re­ferred ques­tions to the ABA, while Pep­siCo did not respond. The ABA has vowed to spend mil­lions of dol­lars in ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, no­tably in San Fran­cisco and Oak­land, to de­feat soda tax pro­pos­als in Novem­ber votes.

WASH­ING­TON, DIS­TRICT OF COLUMBIA: This file photo taken on May 1, 2016 shows a Coca-Cola logo in a restau­rant.—AFP

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