Millions Spent Both Ways

Childhood Obesity News mentioned how Prof. Michael Siegel and student Daniel Aaron studied up on the ways in which Coke and Pepsi spent some of their discretionary income between 2011 and 2015. Their sources, wrote Anahad O’Connor for The New York Times, were “public records including news releases, newspaper databases, lobbying reports, the medical literature and information released by the beverage giants themselves.”

Aaron warned the press that the findings were grim, reflecting “clear-cut conflicts of interest.” From all appearances, it looks like the soda corporations are not helping public health one bit, despite the lucrative sponsorships they grant, which may in fact be subverting the whole effort to stem obesity.

So, what does it mean when Big Soda spends money manipulating the system to minimize regulations and maximize profits, while at the same time funding exercise classes? Is this a fancy way of “playing both ends against the middle”? Is it blatant hypocrisy?

As we know, Marion Nestle is a New York University professor of nutrition, food studies and public health. Her take on it is that soda companies…

[…] want to have it both ways — appear as socially responsible corporate citizens and lobby against public health measures every chance they get.

O’Connor also quotes Duke University’s Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, who does not mince words either:

The beverage industry is using corporate philanthropy to undermine public health measures.

Financial transaction are made in every shade of the spectrum, from the most subtle of suggestions to deals that give every indication of being outright bribes. O’Connor says,

The report found a number of instances in which influential health groups accepted beverage industry donations and then backed away from supporting soda taxes, or remained noticeably silent about the initiatives.

For example, Save the Children used to support campaigns to initiate soda taxes in several states. But Pepsi gave $5 million, and Coke offered the chance of even more, and Save the Children forgot about soda taxes and switched its emphasis to early childhood education instead. It also announced that, of course, the decision had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the soda company’s munificence.

Or how about when Philadelphia was talking about a soda tax, and the American Beverage Association (ABA) donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital in return for dropping the idea? Or when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics accepted close to a million for not supporting the soda tax concept in New York?

When Coke donated another million to the NAACP and $600,000 to the Hispanic Federation, those amounts caused the organizations to refrain from supporting any initiatives unfriendly to the soda industry. But those are not the only venerable and respected organizations that need money so badly they caved in to temptation and zipped their lips about taxing soda. Here are three more:

  • American Diabetes Association — $140,000
  • American Heart Association — $400,000
  • National Institutes of Health — $2,000,000

During a five-year period, while donating to these groups that try to alleviate the effect of rampant obesity, Coke also spent an average of $6 million per year on lobbying against public efforts to reduce soda consumption. With the amounts from Pepsi and the ABA added in, it makes a nice round $10 million per year spent trying to buy the hearts and minds of Americans of all ages.

At most, their money will buy them influence on the policies and procedures of that organization. At the very least, the industry can expect to receive little criticism from the entities that receive such generous allowances. Of course, no organization will admit that the cash has any influence on their scientific research, or on whether they support or do not support certain public policy ideas.

In the same time period, Coke publicized the fact that it spent more than $120 million on “academic research and partnerships with health organizations involved in curbing obesity.” Excuse us for not being impressed, especially with the part about the scientific studies, because we have seen how that sausage is made.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against It,”, 10/10/16
Photo credit: DaveBleasdale 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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