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Coca-Cola Just Got Busted for Secretly Influencing an Anti-Obesity Group

Emails reveal that Coke planned to use the group to wage war against "public health extremists," a.k.a. people who say soda is bad for you.
Photo via Flickr user Lee Coursey

Photo via Flickr user Lee Coursey

The Global Energy Balance Network—a nonprofit founded to help fight obesity—happens to be bankrolled by Coke to the tune of $1.5 million, but the group has claimed that the money doesn't influence their research or message. Shockingly enough, the Associated Press got ahold of some emails that seem to prove the exact opposite: Coke basically ran the place, helping to "pick the group's leaders, [edit] its mission statement, and [suggest] articles and videos for its website." Inconceivable!

The emails show that Coke hoped to see the Global Energy Balance Network become "the place the media goes to for comment on any obesity issue," and planned to use the group in a social media campaign against killjoy nutritionists ("public health extremists" the emails call them) who would dare advise anyone to limit their intake of sugary beverages.

This strategy by Coke isn't a new one. Soda sales have been declining steadily over the last decade as the public has become more aware of their link to obesity and preventable Type 2 diabetes. As such, Coca-Cola's corporate interests have kicked money towards organizations like Global Energy Balance Network and other dietitians to sing the opposite tune against groups like the Harvard School of Public Health, which preaches loudly on its website that "rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic."

Soda may be responsible for nearly 184,000 deaths a year worldwide, but at least Coke won't have Global Energy Balance Network in its pocket anymore. The company's CEO admitted to AP that there "was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network," and the soda giant has cut ties with GEBN. The Coke employee who handled the relationship with the nonprofit has also retired.