PhotoCoca-cola took a lot of heat when it was revealed that it bankrolled studies that showed obesity was largely the result of sedentary lifestyles and not over-consumption of calories.

Critics pounced, pointing out that there were scores of other studies – not funded by an interested stakeholder – that showed just the opposite. In fact, this week we reported on the conclusions of two Loyola University Chicago researchers who say categorically, exercise doesn't help you lose weight.

Mea culpa

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, says the way his company has tried to engage the public health and scientific communities on the issue of obesity “isn't working.”

“Our company has been accused of shifting the debate to suggest that physical activity is the only solution to the obesity crisis,” Kent wrote. “There also have been reports accusing us of deceiving the public about our support of scientific research.”

Kent says that's not what Coke was trying to do, but vows that the company will do better.

“By supporting research and nonprofit organizations, we seek to foster more science-based knowledge to better inform the debate about how best to deal with the obesity epidemic,” Kent wrote. “We have never attempted to hide that. However, in the future we will act with even more transparency as we refocus our investments and our efforts on well-being.”

The New York Times reported last week that Coke has funneled money to industry-friendly researchers. It specifically cites Coke's role in setting up the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to investigate the role of calorie consumption vs. lack of exercise in obesity. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says university-based research organizations should sever their ties to the group.

Impartiality in question

“A good first step would be for the schools to comply with the request of Senator Richard Blumenthal to publicly disclose all of their grant arrangements with Coca-Cola and ensure that research on their campuses will be unbiased and unbought, impartial and objective,” Jacobson said in a statement.

The Times cites an analysis published in PLOS Medicine that found studies financed by Coke and other beverage companies were five times more likely to find no link between consumption of sugary drinks and weight gain.

In his op-ed, Kent says Coke will provide smaller portions and increase efforts to promote calorie-free alternatives. In addition, he outlined three steps he said the company would take:

  • Publish on our website a list of our efforts to reduce calories and market responsibly, along with a list of health and well-being partnerships and research activities we have funded in the past five years, which we will continue to update every six months.
  • Charter and recruit an oversight committee of independent experts to advise and provide governance on company investments in academic research.
  • Engage leading experts to explore future opportunities for our academic research investment and health and well-being initiatives.

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