Global Energy Balance Network, Coca-Cola's sham health-research group, may officially be dead, but that doesn't mean all of Coke's fun fake science has to stop! After a "landmark" study claimed last November that diet drinks had a "neutral" to "even beneficial" effect on weight when compared to water, the Sunday Times looked into a few things and found this team's research was funded by — surprise! — an institute made up of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and other food-industry executives. Three of the five officers at the International Life Sciences Institute in fact work for Big Food.
The Times writes:
The review of thousands of research papers — headed by academics at Bristol University — made headlines when it was published in November and provided rare good publicity for the fizzy drinks industry.
Bristol University announced the research but did not disclose the funding in its press release. It said last week other organisations had supported the work and it had not provided details of funding for "reasons of space".
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, was a review article that aggregated more than 5,500 papers. But the conclusions about the effects of diet drinks compared to water's were based on a not terribly representative sample: three papers. Two of these didn't find significant statistical difference in weight loss; the one that did was funded, go figure, by the American Beverage Association. Making matters even worse, one of the researchers is a member of the ILSI board, and in addition to funding the study itself, ILSI paid several team members about $1,000 apiece for doing their groundbreaking work.
The University of Bristol rejects that there's a conflict of interest, arguing that the study was peer-reviewed, so therefore "the data and conclusions have been scrutinized by other scientists," and that not all funding came from Coke and Pepsi — England's National Health Service and the European Union chipped in at least a little bit, too.
As one doctor and adviser to the U.K.'s National Obesity Forum told The Independent, "To suggest that diet drinks are more healthy than drinking water is laughable unscientific nonsense," adding: "If you want good science you cannot allow corporate sponsorship of research." Seems like good advice, some that might let the sneaky people at Coke sleep with a better conscience, too.