Coke is bankrolling health researchers who play down sugar's role in obesity

Coca-Cola
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Most advice for losing weight comes down to some combination of "eat less and exercise," but most nutritionists and public health experts place more weight on the first part: Consuming fewer calories, especially "empty" calories from things like sugary beverages.

There are reputable researchers who argue that America's sedentary lifestyle is more to blame for its obesity epidemic than, say, America's skyrocketing rate of sugar consumption — and, reports Anahad O'Connor at The New York Times, many of those researchers receive significant financial backing from Coca-Cola Inc. O'Connor focuses largely on a new nonprofit, Global Energy Balance Network, which received at least $1.5 million in startup money from Coke last year and promotes the idea that fast food and sugary drinks are being unfairly targeted in public health campaigns.

Despite the millions in funding Coke has provided the new nonprofit and its two founding members since 2008, and the fact that the group's website is registered to Coca-Cola, Coke is "not running the show," Global Energy Balance Network president James O. Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, tells The New York Times. "We're running the show."

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It isn't uncommon for food companies and industry groups to bankroll scientific research, but an analysis of such research on sugary drinks published December 2013 in PLOS Medicine found that studies financed by Coke, Pepsi, the American Beverage Association, and sugar interests were five times more likely to exculpate sugary drinks from weight gain than those where the researchers didn't report any industry backing.

"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," public health lawyer Michele Simon tells The Times. "This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They're desperate to stop the bleeding." You can read more about the Global Energy Balance Network and Coke at The New York Times.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.