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Science organisations and Coca-Cola’s ‘war’ with the public health community: insights from an internal industry document
  1. Pepita Barlow1,
  2. Paulo Serôdio1,
  3. Gary Ruskin2,
  4. Martin McKee3,
  5. David Stuckler4
  1. 1Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2US Right to Know, Oakland, California, USA
  3. 3Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  4. 4Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management, Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
  1. Correspondence to Pepita Barlow, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK; pepita.barlow{at}sociology.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

Critics have long accused food and beverage companies of trying to exonerate their products from blame for obesity by funding organisations that highlight alternative causes. Yet, conclusions about the intentions of food and beverage companies in funding scientific organisations have been prevented by limited access to industry’s internal documents. Here we allow the words of Coca-Cola employees to speak about how the corporation intended to advance its interests by funding the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). The documents reveal that Coca-Cola funded and supported the GEBN because it would serve as a ‘weapon’ to ‘change the conversation’ about obesity amidst a ‘growing war between the public health community and private industry’. Despite its close links to the Coca-Cola company, the GEBN was to be portrayed as an ‘honest broker’ in this ‘war’. The GEBN’s message was to be promoted via an extensive advocacy campaign linking researchers, policy-makers, health professionals, journalists and the general public. Ultimately, these activities were intended to advance Coca-Cola’s corporate interests: as they note, their purpose was to ‘promote practices that are effective in terms of both policy and profit’. Coca-Cola’s proposal for establishing the GEBN corroborates concerns about food and beverage corporations’ involvement in scientific organisations and their similarities with Big Tobacco.

  • obesity
  • nutrition
  • health policy

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Footnotes

  • Contributor GR obtained the data. GR, DS, PS and PB planned the study. PB, PS and GR analysed the data. PB wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed revisions to the manuscript and approved the final version submitted for publication.

  • Funding PB is supported by the Wellcome Trust. DS is supported by the Wellcome Trust and ERC Grant 313590. GR is funded by the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Bronner’s Family Foundation, CrossFit Foundation, Westreich Foundation, Panta Rhea Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

  • Disclaimer The funders had no involvement in the design of the study, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript or decision to submit for publication.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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