The Coca-Cola Co has bankrolled researchers to promote a new mantra of staying healthy -- exercise more and worry less about dropping calories, according to a New York Times report published Sunday. Last year, the 129-year-old company provided as much as $1.5 million to the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) for its launch, and encouraged scientists to endorse the idea of working out more instead of shunning soda and fast food as a means to staying healthy, the report added.
Over time, various studies have blamed sugary drinks for ailments like obesity and diabetes around the world. A study published in the June edition of the journal Circulation said that more than 180,000 people die every year worldwide due to the consumption of sugar-packed beverages. Of these 25,000 deaths are recorded in the U.S. However, Coco-Cola is funding researchers who say people should focus more on concepts like energy balance, which refers to the amount of calorie intake versus the energy the body uses for breathing, pumping blood, daily activities and thinking, according to the Times.
“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ -- blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” GEBN's vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a video. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”
The network maintained that calories or energy consumed by a person should be the same amount of calories that the body uses through metabolism. This means that the intake of more calories than the body uses leads to weight gain while expending more calories than a person consumes results in weight loss, regardless of a person's diet.
The Times reported that since 2008, Coca-Cola has donated about $4 million in funds to back projects by Blair and Gregory A. Hand, GEBN co-founder and a dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health. GEBN's website is registered to Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta, the Times reported.
GEBN President James O. Hill told the Times that Coca-Cola is “not running the show,” while Coca-Cola issued a statement saying that the company partners with “some of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and physical activity.”
Experts condemned the beverage giant's approach.
"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 told the Times. "This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They're desperate to stop the bleeding."
Marion Nestle, author of the book “Soda Politics” and a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, reportedly said: “The Global Energy Balance Network 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.”