National health organizations are important watchdogs in the fight against obesity. Groups like the American Heart Association draw attention to health crises and bring experts together. But a study published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sponsored 96 national health organizations between 2011 and 2015. Their sponsorship even funded scientific and medical groups dedicated to fighting obesity.
The report’s authors cautioned that Big Soda’s lobbying presents a major obstacle in the fight against obesity.
Diabetes Groups Among Recipients of Sugar Money
Boston University medical student Daniel Aaron decided to investigate the “nature, extent, and implications of soda company sponsorship of U.S. health and medical organizations” after he attended health events and noticed that they were sponsored by the same sugary beverage companies causing health problems across the country.
Concerned, he turned to online resources and databases to find links between the Coca-Cola Company or PepsiCo and “health organizations,” which he defines as entities involved in the public’s health. Aaron found a pervasive link between Big Soda and lobbying: 96 national health organizations took soda’s money. During the time of the study soda companies lobbied against 29 health bills that would have curtailed soda consumption and decreased obesity.
Some health organizations who received Coke and/or Pepsi’s money:
- American Diabetics Association
- Harvard Medical School
- National Dental Association
- American Heart Association
- The Obesity Society
Deepening Concern About Sugar Lobbying Money
The revelation causes further concern that the sugar and soda industries are shaping the way Americans think about nutrition. Last month a study in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that in the 1960s the sugar industry paid Harvard doctors to minimize the health consequences of sugar. And Coca-Cola continues the practice in 2016 by paying dietitians to tweet anti-soda tax stories.
The Boston University study is the biggest and most recent reveal about the pervasiveness of Big Soda’s influence in reputable public health organizations. The study says that the communications “may shape the way Americans think about food and exercise” and that “it is probable that corporate philanthropy is increasing consumption of soda throughout the country.” As a result, these public health organizations are compromising their own mission and undermining the fight against obesity.
Further, “organizations may feel pressured to grant sponsors conference spots, which allow soda companies to present and speak at important health conferences and develop positive associations.”
Following Marlboro’s Lead
Finally, the study compared Big Soda’s sponsorship to that of Big Tobacco in the 20th century. Tobacco and alcohol companies sponsored health organizations via corporate philanthropy as a marketing tool in the 20th century. When the harms of tobacco usage threatened cigarette market share, the tobacco companies wrote generous donations to public health organizations to mitigate the spread of negative information. But public outrage stopped this practice, and now few organizations take Big Tobacco money.
However, in 2008 obesity overtook smoking as the largest preventable cause of death in America. The average American consumes 46 gallons of soda per year, making it a significant factor in weight gain. By accepting money from soda companies, public health organizations are contributing misinformation that perpetuates the number one health crisis.
The study recommends (and Health Fitness Revolution agrees) that health organizations stop taking Coca-Cola’s money and find alternative sources of revenue in the interest of public health.
Read more from HFR on the link between corporate funding and the obesity crisis: