Coke Discloses Millions in Grants for Health Research and Community Programs…
Written By: Anahad O’Connor – New York Times
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest maker of sugary beverages, has spent almost $120 million in the past five years to pay for academic health research, partnerships with major medical groups and community fitness programs aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic.
The list, published Tuesday on the company’s website, details hundreds of Coke grants, large and small, to a variety of organizations since 2010, including physician groups, university researchers, cancer and diabetes organizations and public parks, and even a foundation for the National Institutes of Health.
The list was released after the company’s chief executive, Muhtar Kent, promised to be transparent about its partnerships and support for scientific research related to obesity. The move was prompted by criticism that the company has used its vast resources to play down the role of Coke products in the spread of obesity, an issue first reported last month in The New York Times.
In a statement, Sandy Douglas, the president of Coca-Cola North America, emphasized that the company’s philanthropic efforts were for the public good.
“Our engagement and financial support of these well-respected experts, institutions and organizations were made with the best of intentions – to inform our business, support our local communities and support solutions to the public health issues facing people across the United States and around the world,” Mr. Douglas wrote.
The detailed list of grants shows the company’s remarkable reach across the United States and beyond. Beneficiaries included a number of medical and health groups, including $3.1 million to the American College of Cardiology, more than $3.5 million to the American Academy of Family Physicians, nearly $3 million to the American Academy of Pediatrics, $2 million to the American Cancer Society and roughly $1.7 million to the country’s largest organization of dietitians, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said she was pleased that Coca-Cola had lived up to its promise to provide greater transparency, but she did not know of another food company so “deeply and widely entrenched in so many public organizations.”
“What I find most remarkable about this list is its length and comprehensiveness,” said Dr. Nestle, author of the book “Soda Politics.” “No organization, no matter how small, goes unfunded. Any scientist or dietitian who is willing to take Coca-Cola funding gets it.”
The list also showed that Coca-Cola provided many large grants to community organizations, including more than $6 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. It also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to minority groups like the N.A.A.C.P. and the Hispanic Federation. Both of those groups filed amicus briefs supporting a lawsuit filed by the beverage industry in 2013 to block a proposal by New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, for a citywide ban on large, sugary beverages.
The soda initiative ultimately failed.
Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa, said he was surprised by the sheer number of community and medical organizations that had accepted large sums of money from Coca-Cola. He acknowledged that funding for research and advocacy was often hard to come by, but he said he was disappointed that so many groups that are supposed to protect the public health would expose themselves to obvious conflicts of interest.
“These organizations are forming partnerships with a company whose products are absolutely thought to be a major player in obesity and the spread of chronic, noncommunicable diseases,” he said. “Why in this day and age would a public health organization create even the possibility for there to be influence that might affect their ability to champion and promote public health?”