Coca-Cola Funds Science to Promote Exercise as Solution to Obesity Crisis

Critics of Coke's financial support said its was not transparent until scholars forced its revelation, and that it's a gambit to steer attention away from the role of soda in the nation's epidemic of diabetes and obesity.

Is America’s problem with obesity primarily one of too many calories or too little exercise? From the vantage point of the beverage giant Coca-Cola, moving more would work wonders for maintaining a healthy weight—and they are ready help fund studies to prove their point.

Reports in The New York Times uncovered Coke’s financial backing for the Global Energy Balance Network, a nonprofit that features exercise scientists and a public health expert whose work has informed federal standards on physical activity. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the beverage manufacturer’s connections were not that clear until other obesity scholars inquired about the group’s funding, and the links were subsequently reported.

It is unclear who GEBN consists of besides Steven N. Blair, PED, professor faculty affiliate at the University of South Carolina, where the group appears to be based; James O. Hill, PhD, professor of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and Gregory A. Hand, PhD, MPH, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health. A look at the group’s website states that “GEBN is in its formative stage and at this time we are not privileged to release the names of our members.”

Critics of the initiative say it’s one more misleading effort by Big Soda to steer attention away from the causes of obesity and diabetes, as cities weigh soda taxes and other initiatives against sugary drinks to promote healthy eating and drinking. The federal government has taken aim at programs that once allowed soda machines in schools. As a result, soda consumption is on the decline, with the number of full-calorie sodas consumed by the average American down 25% over the past 20 years.

According to The Times, Coca-Cola has provided nearly $4 million in research support for Blair and Hand. Hill told the newspaper that Coca-Cola had registered the group’s website because the network’s members did not know how, despite the fact that all 3 are employed at the major public research university in their respective states. Hill insisted that Coca-Cola as not “running the show,” while Coca-Cola declined to be interviewed.

Experts on obesity agree that both diet and exercise are required to help overweight persons lose weight, but the precise amount of calories vs. exerciser differs from person to person and shifts as people age; most experts agree that people need fewer calories as they grow older.