Coke to dis­close de­tails on health, nutri­tion ef­forts


Coca-Cola says it will start pub­lish­ing in­for­ma­tion about its health and nutri­tion ef­forts af­ter it was crit­i­cized for fund­ing a group that many felt touted the com­pany’s mes­sage.

On Wed­nes­day evening, Co­caCola CEO Muhtar Kent said in an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in The Wall Street Jour­nal that he was dis­ap­pointed that the com­pany’s ac­tions have cre­ated “more con­fu­sion and mis­trust.” Mov­ing for­ward, he said the com­pany will pub­lish “a list of health and well-be­ing part­ner­ships and re­search ac­tiv­i­ties” the com­pany has funded in the past five years.

That in­for­ma­tion will be up­dated ev­ery six months, he said.

The At­lanta- based com­pany came un­der fire af­ter a New York Times story on Aug. 9 that de­tailed how Coca-Cola Co. gave US$1.5 mil­lion to help start the Global Energy Bal­ance Net­work. The story said the group pro­motes the idea that peo­ple are overly fix­ated on how much they’re eat­ing, rather than how much they’re ex­er­cis­ing.

In a video an­nounc­ing the group, Steven Blair, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Carolina and vice pres­i­dent of the net­work, noted the media fo­cuses on “eat­ing too much, eat­ing too much, eat­ing too much — blam­ing fast food, blam­ing sug­ary drinks, and so on. And there’s re­ally vir­tu­ally no com­pelling ev­i­dence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Later in the video, Blair said peo­ple are get­ting fat­ter, but that “we don’t re­ally know the cause, other than, well, too many peo­ple are eat­ing more calo­ries than they burn on too many days. But maybe the rea­son they’re eat­ing more calo­ries than they need is be­cause they’re not burn­ing many.”

Yoni Freed­hoff, a nutri­tion and obe­sity ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa, said that it has be­come com­mon for food com­pa­nies to de­flect crit­i­cism about their prod­ucts by talk­ing about the need for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

“’Energy bal­ance’ is a term that the food in­dus­try has been us­ing for a while,” he said.

Freed­hoff learned about the group af­ter notic­ing Coca-Cola’s chief science and health of­fi­cer men­tion it on Twit­ter. When he went to the group’s web­site, how­ever, Freed­hoff said he couldn’t find in­for­ma­tion on its fund­ing source.

That in­for­ma­tion was posted soon af­ter he pointed out the over­sight to the group, Freed­hoff said.

A dis­clo­sure at the bot­tom of the group’s “About” page now states that it gets sup­port from var­i­ous en­ti­ties, in­clud­ing an “un­re­stricted grant from The Coca-Cola Co.”

Af­ter the New York Times ran its story, the net­work said in a state­ment that the sug­ges­tion that its work pro­motes “the idea that ex­er­cise is more im­por­tant than diet in ad­dress­ing obe­sity vastly over­sim­pli­fies this com­plex is­sue.” Blair also said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day that he has asked that the video with his re­marks be taken down. He said he re­gret­ted that his com­ments were “used by some to brand GEBN as a net­work fo­cus­ing only on phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.”

Coca-Cola also pub­lished a piece on its web­site by its chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer, Ed Hays, call­ing the story’s por­trayal of the com­pany “in­ac­cu­rate.” Hays dis­missed the idea Coca-Cola funds re­search to con­vince peo­ple that “di­ets don’t mat­ter.”

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Coca-Cola said the com­pany ex­pects to re­lease the first wave of in­for­ma­tion on its health and well­ness ef­forts “within the next few weeks.” The com­pany said it will also post in­for­ma­tion about its work with in­di­vid­u­als.

Ear­lier this year, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that Co­caCola worked with mul­ti­ple health ex­perts who wrote online posts for Amer­i­can Hearth Month in Fe­bru­ary, with each in­clud­ing a miniCoke or other soda as a snack idea. At the time, Coca-Cola said it wanted to help peo­ple “make de­ci­sions that are right for them.” Like oth­ers in the in­dus­try, it said it works with ex­perts to “bring con­text to the latest facts and science around our prod­ucts and in­gre­di­ents.”

In ad­di­tion to out­lin­ing such re­la­tion­ships, Coca-Cola said it will form an over­sight com­mit­tee of in­de­pen­dents ex­perts to ad­vise it on in­vest­ments on aca­demic re­search.

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