Background Global corporations have come under sustained attack in recent years for their lack of transparency. In particular, concerns have been raised about their funding of research to support their advocacy campaigns, in some cases with concealment of the links between the funder and the researcher. Most attention has been focused on the tobacco industry, which has a long history of conducting research designed to create confusion and to reframe the agenda in ways that advance its interests. Similarly, the food industry has sought to reframe the debate on obesity as one driven primarily by too little physical activity rather than by high levels of intake of energy dense food. In this paper we report the findings of the case study of Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola Corporation has been the subject of extensive criticism, in particular because of its support of academics at certain American universities who have been in the forefront of advancing the argument that the obesity epidemic should be tackled through greater physical activity rather than reductions in energy dense products. However, it has also claimed that it embraced transparency by publishing a list of researchers that it funds, although this was in response to widespread public criticism when it was realised that Coca-Cola had donated more than $4 million to the non-profit group “Global Energy Balance Network”, whose research framed obesity as determined by the lack of physical activity rather than by dietary habits. However, we challenge Coca-Cola’s commitment to transparency by demonstrating that its list of scientific experts that it collaborated with is selective and severely incomplete.
Methods Using web scraping tools, we have collected information from the Web of Science Core Collection on every article published in a scientific journal that acknowledges the Coca-Cola Company or the Coca-Cola Foundation as a funding agency. From a total sample of 262 articles, involving approximately 2,100 authors, we impose further restrictions to the sampling procedure and end up with a total of 247 articles and 647 authors.
Results 151 articles, published in roughly 100 different journals, and involving 468 authors, were funded by grants from the Coca-Cola Company or the Coca-Cola Foundation (its philanthropic arm), but were not listed on Coca-Cola’s press release of scientific experts it has funded since 2010.
Discussion Many of these articles equate the obesity epidemic with lack of physical activity, which raises important questions about the role of industry funding in academic research.
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