Over the summer, it was reported that Coca-Cola funded the creation of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), and the organization’s message is clear: obesity is not caused by the foods or drinks a person consumes, but rather because that person does not exercise.
In spreading this message, Coca-Cola recruited extremely reputable scientists and researchers by offering significant grants and research funding. As part of creating the GEBN and the organization’s founding by James Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Coca-Cola gave the school a $1 million grant.
When it was revealed that Coca-Cola was a financial backer of the GEBN, the non-profit group came under fire. Despite its claims that Coke had no bearing on the research conducted, the University determined the backlash was too important and it elected to return to Coke the $1 million funding grant.
In explaining its decision to return the grant, the University of Colorado released a statement that, “While the network continues to advocate for good health through a balance of healthy eating habits and exercise, the funding source has distracted attention from its worthwhile goal.”
Coca-Cola said that the returned $1 million donation will now be given to the Boys and Girls Club of America.
Essentially, the backlash came as independent researchers found the GEBN and its message troubling because it muddied up the message of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. By funding the GEBN, Coca-Cola obviously had interests in the outcome of the research produced.
Public health lawyer Michele Simon aptly states that, “Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption. [The creation of the GEBN utilizing reputable scientists] is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”
Marion Nestle, the author of “Soda Politics” and a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University goes even further, stating that, “The [GEBN] 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.”
Despite the criticism, Hill stated in August that, “[Coca-Cola] is not running the show. We’re running the show.” Hill claimed he sought funding from Coca-Cola to create the GEBN because his university did not have the funds to do so. He believes that public health officials could have greater success in changing the way people eat by collaborating and working with the food industry instead of against it. Hill denied that he has ever claimed that food has no bearing on a healthy lifestyle.