Coca-cola continues to take a page out of the tobacco company playbook. They are funding academics specializing in exercise physiology to support the company position that exercise is more important than cutting calories in combating obesity (see: Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets). In do doing, they oppose efforts such as those on the part of states or cities to tax sugary drinks. (see: Consumption of Soda Begins to Decline but What Beverages Are Being Substituted?; Federal Tax on Soda Pop Proposed: Can This Be Justified?). Below is an excerpt from this article:
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories. The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise....Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume....In response to requests based on state open-records laws, two universities that employ leaders of the Global Energy Balance Network disclosed that Coke had donated $1.5 million last year to start the organization. Since 2008, the company has also provided close to $4 million in funding for various projects to two of the organization’s founding members: Dr. [Steven N.] Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina whose research over the past 25 years has formed much of the basis of federal guidelines on physical activity, and Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health. Records show that the network’s website, gebn.org, is registered to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, and the company is also listed as the site’s administrator. The group’s president, James O. Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said Coke had registered the website because the network’s members did not know how.
Coca-Cola has a history of establishing relationships with professional societies and academics in order to promote their unhealthy products (see, for example: American Academy of Family Physicians Cozies Up to Coke). Here's a quote from that blog note:
I think that there is a need to try to explain how a professional physician society [like the American Academy of Family Physicians could accept a grant from a company such as Coca-Cola. Surely every physician member in the group would immediately understand that this was a big mistake. I suspect that the short answer is money....
In the case of Drs. Blair and Hand working closely with Coca-Cola and establishing the pro-sugary-beverage Global Energy Balance Network, there is no question in my mind that incentive for them is the funding of their research by the company. However, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they hold the belief that exercise is very important in relation to the challenge of fighting obesity. Perhaps they believe it is even more important than calorie intake although I personally believe that this is incorrect. I do wonder, however, whether they would have chosen to get involved with this project if they had anticipated that it would provoke such broad negative coverage in the media (front of the business section of the NYT). I also won't comment further on Professor James Hill's assertion that none of the Global Energy Network members knew how to register a web site, thus ceding the task to Coca-Cola. Here's a cut-and-paste from the GEBN web site. It provides fodder to my belief that "evidence-based" anything has become a meaningless trope.
The Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) is a newly formed, voluntary public-private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to identifying and implementing innovative solutions – based on the science of energy balance – to prevent and reduce diseases associated with inactivity, poor nutrition and obesity. It is a premier world-wide organization led by scientists working on the development and application of an evidence-based approach to ending obesity.