After the Coca-Cola company offered what they described as a “scientific” answer to the age-old weight loss question, health officials across the country accused them of sugar-coating their research.
The company, which reportedly sells more than 1.8 billion drinks per day, recently funneled $1.5 million of their earnings — according to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal — to a new nonprofit organization that promotes a glucose-friendly message: exercise, not diet, is the key to a clean bill of health.
“The big problem around the world is that the population is getting fatter,” said Steven N. Blair, the vice president of the Global Energy Balance Network, in a video introducing the nonprofit. “The big problem is we don’t really know the cause.”
Blair suggests that, while calories are certainly an issue, they can be easily offset — just burn more than you consume.
But multiple healthcare professionals who have decried the research have more than a few issues with Blair’s mindset. They argue that the study is a lame attempt to try to keep people drinking soda when they may otherwise consider healthier dietary habits.
Also, critics allege, the message may just be the result of a corrupt payoff between the beverage giant and the scientists who produced the research.
“This effort by Coca-Cola is just the latest attempt to confuse the American public about science and health,” writes an administrative director at a Massachusetts clinical research center in a New York Times letter to the editor. “While we know that the right amount of exercise is good for you, simple math dictates that it is more effort to get enough exercise to work off extra calories than it is simply to avoid these excess calories.”
Widespread criticism among health experts has been building over the past week as more and more officials respond to the news. But it wasn’t until Tuesday that the issue bubbled over in Connecticut, when Blumenthal called upon researchers to reveal their financial relationship with the soda giant.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, said his interest in the issue came from his concern at the company’s attempt to interfere with consumers’ right to accurate product information.
Blumenthal wrote a letter to the president of West Virginia University, which he believes is one of three schools involved in the company’s research, urging him to re-evaluate its partnership and ensure their findings have not been influenced.
“Overconsumption of sugary-drinks is a major driver of obesity, heart disease and diabetes and any attempt by Coca-Cola to purchase research to the contrary is a danger to public health that must be stopped,” Blumenthal said at a Hartford press conference. “I am calling on the public institutions and researchers receiving these tainted funds to denounce and distance themselves from this threat to public health.”
According to Blumenthal, the other universities accepting funding for this research are the University of South Carolina and the University of Colorado.
He likened the Coca-Cola’s tactics to those of tobacco companies, which years ago hired scientists in an effort to convince the public that smoking was not unhealthy despite mounting evidence to the country.
However, Blumenthal said that he continued to hope that the faculties of the three universities would take steps to to denounce the efforts of the Coca-Cola company. He said that he believes that the schools’ faculties may have been unaware that the research was being conducted on their campuses.
“They may not need a letter from me to focus on this issue, but I think it’s important to make sure they know the world is watching,” he said.
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said what other members of the company have been repeatedly telling news outlets since the issue came to light that their sponsored research was not meant to deter consumers from paying attention to their diet.
“We recognize diet, including what you drink, and exercise play pivotal roles in managing health and weight,” the company said in a statement. “In fact, we continue to take steps to help people manage their calories — whether it’s through the introduction of smaller-sized packs, front-of-pack calorie labeling, or innovation through reduced-calorie products such as Coke Zero and Coca-Cola Life.”
But some critics have called what they believe to be Coca-Cola’s bluff, citing America’s steady decrease in sugary drink consumption as a potential impetus for deflecting focus from the detrimental effects of glucose intake. According to a report by the New York Times, full-calorie soda intake has decreased by 25 percent since the late 1990’s.
In Connecticut, an attempt to further decrease this consumption was quickly shot down during this year’s legislative session. The proposed “sugar tax” would have imposed a 1 cent per ounce levy on soft drinks — including sweetened teas, energy drinks, and soda — and candies high in sugar and calories.
Researchers from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut said that a 10-percent price increase on sugary beverages can lead to an 8 percent to 10 percent decrease in consumption, but other organizations said that there was not enough evidence to support that claim.
The bill died after a public hearing in February.