Implications of the Energy Balance Scam

Times are tough and funding is iffy. The relationship between health and money has never been less healthy. There are too many needs and not enough dollars. It takes a lot of time and energy to debate the basic questions. Is it better to spend on prevention, or on immediate help for the most desperately ill?

As agencies lose their funding, Coke and other industry actors have a stake in encouraging the government to sit back and do less and less in the way of either research or policing. If the government won’t fund research, guess who will? The friendly soda pop pushers. The soda industry, and the junk food industry, and the sugar cartel, and everybody else who is positioned to make a buck off the human desire for mouth pleasure, all are eager to pay.

The world has already seen some disturbing examples of what can happen when scientific research is underwritten not by impartial institutions but by the very companies that are most likely to profit from getting the answers they want. Of course, as the old saying goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money. Coke was perfectly willing to spend about $120 million buying studies, over just a five-year period alone.

Childhood Obesity News has mentioned the lawsuit filed by the Praxis Project against the Coca-Cola Company and the American Beverage Association, which paid a fortune to covertly fund research and programs that misrepresented the links between their sugar-sweetened beverage products and several medical conditions that ruin lives, kill people, and play havoc with the federal budget.

The energy balance doctrine

According to the corporations, all calories are created equal, and have exactly the same effect at all times and in all places. Furthermore, exercise has exactly the same effect on all human bodies, everywhere and always. Those are the basic tenets. The other major axiom is that type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and, yes, obesity, are all caused by energy balance mismanagement.

Now, here comes the clincher, the most crucial and most insidious part: The principle that management of energy balance is the sole responsibility of the individual. Put them all together, and they add up to the energy balance doctrine.

How did the industry arrive at this conclusion? Gary Ruskin, executive director of the watchdog group U.S. Right to Know, reported on the conflict of interest disclosures appended to dozens of Coke-funded studies from ISCOLE, or the International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment. The Journal of Public Health Policy analyzed them.

U.S. Right to Know obtained evidence offering pretty clear indications that Coke influenced the making of strategic decisions in designing the studies, like deciding which countries to include. Needless to say, the other element of the accusation is that none of this meddling was disclosed.

Apparently, Coke bought six-and-a-half million dollars worth of studies whose findings unanimously declared that a sedentary lifestyle is a key predictor for childhood obesity. Or has the causality in this equation been intentionally reversed?

The common-sense response (which is of course not admissible in court) might be something like, “Of course there is a link. Kids get so big from eating chips and pizza and drinking liquid sugar, they can’t move around very much. Duh!”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Did 24 Coke-Funded Studies on Childhood Obesity Fail to Disclose Coke’s Influence?,”, 12/11/17
Photo credit: Natalie Maynor on Visualhunt/CC BY

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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.
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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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