Medical Professional Societies and Conflict-Cola, Part 3

Color Pop

The Coca-Cola Company has a strange and wonderful relationship with many anti-obesity organizations, both on the professional level and in communities. The whole thing is bizarre, and part of the reason is, there are good people on both sides.

One school of thought says, why not take money from the food industry to help figure out childhood obesity, and fight it? After all, they are a major cause of it. Why shouldn’t they pay for their overly acquisitive ways and for the damage done?

On the other hand, some say that a truly dedicated organization should not take corporate money, on moral grounds. And on the grounds of absurdity. All the money that corporations have comes from their customers, either from the stuff they directly buy, or via the government, in the form of various tax breaks and bailouts received by big business. These are also paid for by the customers, in their other role as taxpayers.

Either way, we pay for the magnanimous donations made by big business. If the local anti-obesity clinic got funded for another year, don’t thank the corporate donor. Thank your next-door neighbors who sacrificed their own health for the cause by consuming gallons of soft drinks every day.

And isn’t that a little creepy in itself? The more soda pop my neighbors drink, the better off the community is, because its anti-obesity clinic can keep its doors open for another year. There is something inexpressibly weird about the whole concept.

If the food corporations really care, why don’t they lower their prices? It’s just another system of redistribution of wealth — from the customers to programs and causes that the corporation wants to support. Why not let the customers keep their money and decide on their own which causes to give it to?

If they really care, why don’t they stop manufacturing hideous pseudo-foods that are like land mines? The affected human may not blow up for a few years, but eventually an explosion will happen. We’re feeding our kids land mines.

On the third hand, if interests are all fully disclosed, can there still be a blameworthy amount of conflict? As long as everybody knows that Coca-Cola bankrolls a group’s activities, then it’s okay. The public can make allowances for knowing that and act accordingly. If everything is out in the open, it’s fair, and nobody can claim a legally actionable conflict of interest. That’s another way of looking at it.

Here is how the Coca-Cola Company states its case. Actually, the excerpt is part of a much longer page in which the company states its case about many accusations that have been made against it, like child labor, instigating violence in South America, and so on. This is part of the answer to the question, “What is Coca-Cola doing to address obesity?”:

Coca-Cola and other food and beverage companies are viewed by some as major contributors to the problem, but real solutions are more complex than selecting targets for blame. As the world’s largest beverage company, we need to become a recognized leader, working in collaboration with other stakeholders, to identify and implement workable solutions that help people achieve more active, healthy lifestyles.

So, there you have it. The company lists the many ways in which it fights obesity, like selling soda pop in small bottles, for people who don’t want to drink very much of it. That sounds reasonable. Philosophically speaking, the corporation is a big fan of “respecting the rights of parents, teachers and school officials to make choices for children.” Especially the rights of parents, because the corporation knows that the parents are hooked on the stuff too. Teachers and school officials are a little more difficult, but they can be dealt with.

Here are two more planks of the corporate platform, both of which have ominous undertones, given the evidence of past performance. The corporation believes in:

* Developing effective educational tools and programs that emphasize the importance of energy balance…
* Working with representatives of government, NGOs and the public health community to ensure that the discussion about obesity remains grounded in fact and scientific evidence.

To a corporation, “developing effective educational tools” means “hire a better advertising firm that can convince people to drink more soda pop.” Too often, “working with representatives of government” means lobbying in Washington and buying the favor of lawmakers so the products won’t be banned or taxed.

And that stuff about ensuring “that the discussion about obesity remains grounded in fact and scientific evidence.” They have the best scientific evidence money can buy.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Addressing Your Questions,”
Image by Mustafa Sayed, used under its Creative Commons license.

2 Responses

  1. I think this is an important discussion to have. What do you do, for example, with a company like Nestle that makes ice cream, candy, and pizza – but also owns Optifast and Jenny Craig?

  2. And an even bigger contributor is the pharmaceutical industry, which still hopes to make billions of dollars off an anti-obesity drug and therefore funds anti-obesity efforts – why? Perhaps to make sure that people become convinced that fighting obesity is the number one world health problem and therefore your government and your insurance should pay for their drug, if they ever develop it?

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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