Coke vs. Science

Right around the time when Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald was appointed head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the watchdog group U.S. Right to Know requested from the government the records having to do with the relationship between the government and the soda industry.

The industry would prefer that the American people never see any causal link between obesity and sugar-sweetened beverages, and is willing to go to extreme lengths and spend a lot of money to insure that outcome.

Industry-sponsored research is often of dubious quality. This lack of authenticity has a knock-on effect, because those studies are used as tools to affect public policy, which translates into affecting the lives of actual humans, often in very harmful ways.

The Coca-Cola Company has a history of quite pushy behavior in regard to the federal government, resulting in what critics describe as a very cozy relationship, and that is not meant as an endearment. Dr. Robert Lustig has publicly asked why there needs to be any chit-chat at all between Coke and the Centers for Disease Control, who really should not have that much to say to each other.

Ancient wisdom

Maybe the government is following the old tactic: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Maybe the government simply shakes its head and says, “Better to have them inside the tent spitting out, than outside the tent spitting in.”

The food industry has suborned scientists into decreeing that sugar, meat, and salt are the exact substances that everybody needs more of. Of course, a better argument can be made for meat, or even salt, than for sugar. But the principle is the same.

In the research world, as in many other realms, there are degrees of corruption. Several kinds of lines are there to be crossed. Outright falsification and fabrication are, of course, the worst, but before matters progress that far other deleterious things can happen.

A couple of years ago, U.S. Right to Know used the Freedom of Information Act to pry loose a stash of email communications between the Coca-Cola Company, some of its tame scientists, and the CDC. Journalist Jesse Hirsch wrote,

The company’s attempts to cast doubt on the link between obesity and sugary beverages have been well-documented for years. The newly released emails, where Coke-funded obesity studies are foisted on the CDC, explicitly showcase that goal.

Coke was outed as being crooked, once again. The corporation had funded $6.4 million worth of research through an outfit known as ISCOLE, which generated two or three dozen studies that blamed childhood obesity solely on kids not moving around enough.

For, Rob Waters interviewed prominent critics of Coke’s science-undermining methods, such as Professor Lisa Bero of the University of Sydney, an old hand at deciphering the connections between corporate funding of research, and research findings. Waters wrote,

In the soda arena, Bero says, researchers with financial ties to food companies were five times more likely to conclude that sugar-sweetened beverages had no impact on weight gain than authors with no financial links. And in a study published last year, she found that the results of studies looking at the health effects of diet soda were also highly related to the source of funding.

There were also some funky studies of artificial sweeteners where corporate-funded research resulted in a much higher approval rating for those substances, than studies sponsored by impartial institutions. There was also, among study authors, an epidemic of undeclared conflicts of interest.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The CDC’s ties to Coca Cola go deeper than its new director,”, 07/11/17
Source: “The Coca-Cola Network: Soda Giant Mines Connections With Officials And Scientists To Wield Influence,”, 07/11/17
Image by Gerry/Flickr

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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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