The largest maker of sugar-sweetened beverages in the world is putting funding behind telling people that to lose weight they need to exercise more and worry about what they are eating less. Coca-Cola is teaming up with researchers and is giving financial support to a new organization that promotes the message that Americans fixate too much on what and how much they are eating rather than on exercise.
The organization, the Global Energy Balance Network, was founded by Steven Blair, professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina, and Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health. It is led by James O. Hill, professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. All three are noted experts in the area of exercise and bodyweight. Energy balance is the balancing of the calories you take in as food and drink and the calories you burn in physical activity; too many calories in or too little calories out and you gain weight.
However, many health experts believe that the message that is being delivered in misleading. They say that by funding the network and by underwriting other research Coca-Cola is attempting to convince the public that exercise can help correct for a diet that may be heavy on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The information that Coca-Cola was funding the new organization was public, but was not as prominently noted as it could have been. The group's website made no mention of its funding originally, but now lists that information. The founders of the group all say that its funding is transparent, that it carries no restrictions, and that Coca-Cola has no say in the group.
Many food companies and trade groups fund research into the role their products play in nutrition and health. However, the source of funding can bias research results. A recent analysis of beverage studies found that those funded by soda makers, the American Beverage Association, or the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than those studies whose authors listed no financial conflicts.