Obesity Researcher Who Took Coca-Cola Funding Steps Down

After The New York Times reported the nature of the ties between Coca-Cola and the Global Energy Balance Network, the University of Colorado returned a $1 million donation it had received.

A University of Colorado obesity expert who accepted $550,000 from Coca-Cola has stepped down from his leadership position at a wellness center, according to a report.

The Denver Post reported Friday that James O. Hill, PhD, was stepping down, effective immediately, as executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, but would continue his research on causes of obesity.

According to the report, he issued a statement that read, “It has been an honor serving in this role over the last 4 years and I look forward to contributing to the continued success of the center. This was a difficult decision but I feel the need to devote more time to the Colorado Nutrition Obesity Research Center and to my own research in weight management and behavior change.”

The center is affiliated with the university but funded separate through federal dollars. The university returned a $1 million grant from Coca-Cola in the wake of a story in The New York Times in August 2015. This was the first in a series of reports that detailed how the soda giant was controlling activity by the Global Energy Balance Network.

This research arm, according to the Times and subsequent stories by the Associated Press, was created to deflect attention away from calorie intake and sugar-sweetened beverages specifically as a cause of obesity, and instead build public opinion that lack of activity is the primary cause.

After these stories appeared, the network disbanded.

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, of New York University, discusses the soda companies’ use of the “physical activity diversion” in her book, Soda Politics, which went to press just before the Times’ story appeared. In an interview with Evidence-Based Diabetes Management, she said the revelations about the Global Energy Balance Network were surprising on one level but not on another, as the behavior of the soda companies had been headed this way for some time.

The fallout for Hill is hard to calculate. His profile on the University of Colorado website outlines highlights from a career of more than 25 years of researching how people gain weight, and how to prevent and treat obesity.

Hill is the author of more than 300 scientific articles and a co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks more than 6000 people “who have lost weight and kept it off permanently,” according to the university. He also helped develop guidelines for obesity treatment published by the National Institutes of Health.