It’s a bad time to be in the sugar-water business: Even though Coca-Cola’s profits are doing well (thanks to higher prices), those results come despite the fact that Americans are increasingly realizing maybe soda isn’t the best thing to be drinking. In fact, people drink 25 percent less non-diet soda than they did in the ‘90s (a.k.a. the glory days of Surge). The government has even proposed warning labels on soda to really hammer home that this stuff ain’t great for you. No doubt realizing that it’s only a matter of time before this point really takes off, Big Soda has been working hard to get out ahead of the message.
Of course, if Coke just tells you it’s fine to drink Coke, any half-intelligent person will tune out. So the company has reportedly “teamed up with influential scientists” ($$$) to tell Americans that their approach to weight loss is simply wrong. Eat and drink whatever crap you want — the real trick to living a healthier life is just exercising more. Here’s how the Times has it:
The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.
If you think this argument sounds specious, you aren’t alone. Many people see the move as a way to try and convince people that exercise can simply offset a bad diet. It doesn’t help that Coca-Cola hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about its backing of the group. The Times discovered that the company has provided millions of dollars’ worth of funding to projects by founding members of the GEBN, the organization’s website was registered to Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters, and that, until recently, the GEBN’s various web outlets made no mention of the group’s connection to Big Soda. (One doctor affiliated with the group has said the omission was “an oversight” that’s now been corrected.)
Of course, large corporations have a history of funding scientific research, but, as you might guess, that funding tends to influence the results in the companies’ favor. The Times points to a variety of studies that say the biggest determining factor in lasting weight loss is diet change, then points to Coke-funded studies that say the opposite, while noting that “Coke’s support of prominent health researchers was reminiscent of tactics used by the tobacco industry, which enlisted experts to become ‘merchants of doubt’ about the health hazards of smoking.” Prominent nutrition expert Marion Nestle, for one, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. She tells the Times, “The Global Energy Balance Network is nothing but a front group for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola’s agenda here is very clear: Get these researchers to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake.”
That’s a serious accusation, but, also, people really should be smart enough not to fall for this. If you’re the kind of person who continues to ignore the scores of independent researchers that say, again and again, that healthy living is a combination of maintaining an active lifestyle and eating smartly, and instead think it’s fine to pound a Big Gulp because you went for a jog this morning, go nuts. Coke needs your business, after all.