The Two Faces of Soda Money

Maybe the weirdest thing about the manufacturing giant Coke is the willingness to spend so much — not just on the side of keeping the products unencumbered by regulation or taxation, but on the other side too — the altruistic one. By financing anti-obesity programs and other pro-health measures, Coke and the other soda corporations might actually discourage some of their own potential customers.

On the other hand, what is there to worry about, really? Big Soda has proven for decades that people will not renounce their products, no matter what. Sure, some individuals quit soda pop, but at the same time, many more individuals set out on the journey to become lifelong devotees — some would say, addicts.

The New York Times writer Anahad O’Connor sums up the paradox:

The beverage giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have given millions of dollars to nearly 100 prominent health groups in recent years, while simultaneously spending millions to defeat public health legislation that would reduce Americans’ soda intake… While some of the incidents cited in the study already have been reported by news organizations, the medical journal report is the first to take a comprehensive look at the industry’s strategy of donating to health organizations while at the same time lobbying against public health measures.

The subject was addressed in a study by a Boston University medical school professor, Michael Siegel, and student, Daniel Aaron, which was published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. They made a deep and wide study of public records generated between 2011 and 2015, to form a picture of the intriguing pattern of lavish spending, with one hand on lobbying against public health measures that would hurt their business. Then, with the other hand, the industry spends generously on donations (including what some might presumably call bribes) to anti-obesity programs.

It’s almost as if the industry does not realize how harmful its own products are. If concerned companies really want to reduce obesity, the simplest way would be to close their doors and discontinue the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages — rather than staying in business and at the same time supporting, among others, the Childhood Obesity and Public Health Conference, the National Dental Association, the American Diabetes Association, and American Heart Association.

Okay, they want to stay in business. And part of business is the promotion of health-destroying products, AND the promotion of health — two goals that, in effect, cancel each other out. In a sane world, the insanity of pouring money into two opposing goals would be recognized.

It’s like when a corporation donates to the campaigns of two opposing candidates. If financial support were based on the principle of picking the candidate with the best ethics and the most impressive record, and giving money to that one candidate, it would make sense.

In practical terms, when every corporation supports two candidates, even if the amounts are not identical, it seems like it would balance out, and all that expenditure could be avoided by simply not supporting any candidate. That would save corporations a lot of money. (Of course, it would put a lot of lawyers and accountants out of work.)

With candidates, donating to both is called “hedging your bets.” Whichever one wins, that triumphant office-holder has already accepted the payola and is obligated to do what the donor wants. The donor wins either way.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against It,”, 10/10/16
Photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann (Abode of Chaos) 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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