The long and the short of it: Coke & Extra Calories

 A short and a long version of the same fact is offered to you down below, both of them from the New York Times; the long article came first, yesterday, and I copied it here; today when about to publish it I see that the same fact is now also the topic of the editorial ! So now you’ll get both versions: first, today’s short one, and then, if you want to go deeper into it, you can go on to the long one from yesterday, which gives very interesting details to the whole matter. Here you go:
Photo

Credit Mike Blake/Reuters

The Coca-Cola Company, which has suffered a large decline in consumption of sugary sodas as consumers worry about obesity, has formed a new organization to emphasize exercise as the best way to control obesity and to play down the importance of cutting calories.

Coke and other beverage makers have long funneled money to industry-leaning scientists and formed innocent-sounding front groups to spread the message that sugary sodas have no deleterious effect on health and should not be taxed or regulated. The new organization, the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network, is the latest effort to put a “science based” gloss on industry positions, as described by Anahad O’Connor in The Times.

It is led by respected scientists who say Coca-Cola will have no control over what they study or say, but corporate sponsorship tends to affect a study’s results. An analysis published in PLOS Medicine found that studies financed by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than studies reporting no industry sponsorship or financial conflicts of interest.

The beverage industry in general, and Coca-Cola in particular, have suffered from public health campaigns against sugar-sweetened beverages. Since the late 1990s, the amount of full-calorie soda drunk by the average American has dropped 25 percent, from 40 gallons a year in 1998 to 30 gallons in 2014. As calorie consumption from beverages and other foods plummeted, obesity rates stopped rising for adults and school-age children and came down for the youngest children. The epidemic is not over — more than a third of American adults are still considered obese — but trends are heading in the right direction for public health.

That poses potential financial problems for Coca-Cola. In its 2014 annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company cited a multitude of risk factors that could adversely affect its business. First on the list was “obesity concerns” that could cause consumers to stop drinking sugary sodas, lead governments to impose new taxes or regulations and prompt lawsuits, actions which could “adversely affect our profitability.” Although Coke and Pepsi also sell diet sodas, those sales have also been declining in recent years, apparently because of fears over the safety of their substitute sweeteners.

The industry has used a variety of tactics to spread its message — providing speakers for conventions or educational courses of dietitians and nutritionists, financing the research of like-minded scientists, and deploying armies of lobbyists to persuade cities, states and Congress not to crack down on sugary drinks. In a particularly brazen move, Coca-Cola paid dietitians to write blog posts or articles in February suggesting that a mini-can of Coke would make a good snack food. A mini-can of Coke contains 7½ ounces and has 90 calories. A regular 12-ounce can has 140 calories.

In Philadelphia, when the mayor sought to impose a new tax on sugary sodas, the industry’s trade group created a new foundation to provide a $10 million grant to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to fund research and treat overweight children, and successfully lobbied the City Council to let the proposal die. In New York State in 2010, Gov. David Paterson proposed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax to be paid by the bottlers or distributors. Coke, Pepsi and the rest of the industry responded with a burst of lobbying and political contributions and an advertising campaign describing it as an unfair tax that would cut into family food budgets. The tax proposal went nowhere in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, the evidence continues to mount that sugar-sweetened drinks are a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and that exercise makes only a modest contribution to weight loss compared to ingesting fewer calories.

(Original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/opinion/coke-tries-to-sugarcoat-the-truth-on-calories.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20150814)

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Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets

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An image from a video by the Coca-Cola Foundation. In November 2012, the foundation  announced a $3 million grant to Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. The grant was intended to establish a wellness program.
An image from a video by the Coca-Cola Foundation. In November 2012, the foundation  announced a $3 million grant to Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. The grant was intended to establish a wellness program.Credit

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.

The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.

“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,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.

This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.

“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,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

Coke has made a substantial investment in the new nonprofit. In response to requests based on state open-records laws, two universities that employ leaders of the Global Energy Balance Network disclosed that Coke had donated $1.5 million last year to start the organization.

Since 2008, the company has also provided close to $4 million in funding for various projects to two of the organization’s founding members: Dr. Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina whose research over the past 25 years has formed much of the basis of federal guidelines on physical activity, and Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.

Records show that the network’s website, gebn.org, is registered to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, and the company is also listed as the site’s administrator. The group’s president, James O. Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said Coke had registered the website because the network’s members did not know how.

“They’re not running the show,” he said. “We’re running the show.”

Coca-Cola’s public relations department repeatedly declined requests for an interview with its chief scientific officer, Rhona Applebaum, who has called attention to the new group on Twitter. In a statement, the company said it had a long history of supporting scientific research related to its beverages and topics such as energy balance.

“We partner with some of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and physical activity,” the statement said. “It’s important to us that the researchers we work with share their own views and scientific findings, regardless of the outcome, and are transparent and open about our funding.”

Dr. Blair and other scientists affiliated with the group said that Coke had no control over its work or message and that they saw no problem with the company’s support because they had been transparent about it.

But as of last week, the group’s Twitter and Facebook pages, which promote physical activity as a solution to chronic disease and obesity while remaining largely silent on the role of food and nutrition, made no mention of Coca-Cola’s financial support. So far, the social media campaign has failed to gain much traction: As of Friday, the group had fewer than 1,000 followers on Twitter.

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A  screengrab from the video about Coke's  commitment to promoting fitness in Chicago.<br /> <br /><br /><br />
A  screengrab from the video about Coke’s  commitment to promoting fitness in Chicago.Credit

The group’s website also omitted mention of Coke’s backing until Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa, wrote to the organization to inquire about its funding. Dr. Blair said this was an oversight that had been quickly corrected.

“As soon as we discovered that we didn’t have not only Coca-Cola but other funding sources on the website, we put it on there,” Dr. Blair said. “Does that make us totally corrupt in everything we do?”

Coke’s involvement in the new organization is not the only example of corporate-funded research and advocacy to come under fire lately. The American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have been criticized by public health advocates for forming partnerships with companies such as Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Hershey’s. Dietitians have also faced criticism for taking payments from Coke to present the company’s soda as a healthy snack.

Critics say Coke has long cast the obesity epidemic as primarily an exercise problem. “The message is that obesity is not about the foods or beverages you’re consuming, it’s that you’re not balancing those foods with exercise,” Dr. Freedhoff of the University of Ottawa said.

Now, public health advocates say, Coca-Cola is going a step further, recruiting reputable scientists to make the case for them.

Dr. Hill, the nonprofit’s president, is a co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, a long-term study of people who have lost weight, and has served on committees for the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health. The American Society for Nutrition refers to him as “a leader in the fight against the global obesity epidemic.”

Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Coke’s support of prominent health researchers was reminiscent of tactics used by the tobacco industry, which enlisted experts to become “merchants of doubt” about the health hazards of smoking.

Marion Nestle, the author of the book “Soda Politics” and a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, was especially blunt: “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.”

Funding from the food industry is not uncommon in scientific research. But studies suggest that the funds tend to bias findings. A recent analysis of beverage studies, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that those funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than studies whose authors reported no financial conflicts.

On its website, the new nonprofit promises to be “the voice of science” in discussions about healthy lifestyles and contends that the concept of energy balance provides “a new science-based framework” for achieving a stable body weight.

The group says there is “strong evidence” that the key to preventing weight gain is not reducing food intake — as many public health experts recommend — “but maintaining an active lifestyle and eating more calories.” To back up this contention, the group provides links to two research papers, each of which contains this footnote: “The publication of this article was supported by The Coca-Cola Company.”

In March, Dr. Hill, Dr. Blair, and Dr. Hand announced the creation of the organization in an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. They argued that the public and many scientists largely overlooked physical inactivity as a cause of obesity. They said they were creating the Global Energy Balance Network to raise awareness “about both sides of the energy balance equation.”

The editorial contained a disclosure that the group had received an “unrestricted education gift” from Coca-Cola.

In response to a request made under the state Freedom of Information Act, the University of South Carolina disclosed that Dr. Blair had received more than $3.5 million in funding from Coke for research projects since 2008.

The university also disclosed that Coca-Cola had provided significant funding to Dr. Hand, who left the University of South Carolina last year for West Virginia. The company gave him $806,500 for an “energy flux” study in 2011 and $507,000 last year to establish the Global Energy Balance Network.

It is unclear how much of the money, if any, ended up as personal income for the professors.

“As long as everybody is disclosing their potential conflicts and they’re being managed appropriately, that’s the best that you can do,” Dr. Hand said. “It makes perfect sense that companies would want the best science that they can get.”

Photo

Three scientists who helped start the new nonprofit supported by Coke, from left: Steven N. Blair, a professor in the department of exercise science, epidemiology and biostatistics at the  University of South Carolina;  James O. Hill, a professor at the  University of Colorado School of Medicine; and Gregory A. Hand,  dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.
Three scientists who helped start the new nonprofit supported by Coke, from left: Steven N. Blair, a professor in the department of exercise science, epidemiology and biostatistics at the  University of South Carolina;  James O. Hill, a professor at the  University of Colorado School of Medicine; and Gregory A. Hand,  dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.Credit University of Colorado, West Virginia University

The group’s president, Dr. Hill, also has financial ties to Coca-Cola. The company last year gave an “unrestricted monetary gift” of $1 million to the University of Colorado Foundation. In response to a request made under the Colorado Open Records Act, the university said that Coca-Cola had provided the money “for the purposes of funding” the Global Energy Balance Network.

Dr. Hill said he had sought money from Coke to start the nonprofit because there was no funding available from his university. The group’s website says it is also supported by a few universities and ShareWIK Media Group, a producer of videos about health. Dr. Hill said that he had also received a commitment of help from General Mills, as well as promises of support from other businesses, which had not formally confirmed their offers.

He said he believed public health authorities could more easily change the way people eat by working with the food industry instead of against it.

On its website, the group recommends combining greater exercise and food intake because, Dr. Hill said, “ ‘Eat less’ has never been a message that’s been effective. The message should be ‘Move more and eat smarter.’ ”

He emphasized that weight loss involved a combination of complex factors and that his group’s goal was not to play down the role of diet or to portray obesity as solely a problem of inadequate exercise.

“If we are out there saying it’s all about physical activity and it’s not about food, then we deserve criticism,” he said. “But I think we haven’t done that.”

But in news releases and on its website, the group has struck a different tone.

“The media tends to blame the obesity epidemic on our poor eating habits,” one recent news release states. “But are those french fries really the culprit? Dr. Steve Blair explains that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on TV.”

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Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa.Credit Justin Tang for The New York Times

In the news release, Dr. Blair suggests that sedentary behavior is a bigger factor.

Most public health experts say that energy balance is an important concept, because weight gain for most people is about calories in vs. calories out. But the experts say research makes it clear that one side of the equation has a far greater effect.

While people can lose weight in several ways, many studies suggest that those who keep it off for good consume fewer calories. Growing evidence also suggests that maintaining weight loss is easier when people limit their intake of high glycemic foods such as sugary drinks and other refined carbohydrates, which sharply raise blood sugar.

Physical activity is important and certainly helps, experts say. But studies show that exercise increases appetite, causing people to consume more calories. Exercise also expends far fewer calories than most people think. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, for example, contains 140 calories and roughly 10 teaspoons of sugar. “It takes three miles of walking to offset that one can of Coke,” Dr. Popkin said.

In one of the most rigorous studies of physical activity and weight loss, published in the journal Obesity, scientists recruited 200 overweight, sedentary adults and put them on an aggressive exercise program. To isolate the effects of exercise on their weight, the subjects were instructed not to make any changes in their diets.

Participants were monitored to ensure they exercised five to six hours a week, more than double the 2.5 weekly hours of exercise recommended in federal guidelines. After a year, the men had lost an average of just 3.5 pounds, the women 2.5. Almost everyone was still overweight or obese.

“Adding exercise to a diet program helps,” said Dr. Anne McTiernan, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. “But for weight loss, you’re going to get much more impact with diet changes.”

But much like the research on sugary drinks, studies of physical activity funded by the beverage industry tend to reach conclusions that differ from the findings of studies by independent scientists.

Last week, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana announced the findings of a large new study on exercise in children that determined that lack of physical activity “is the biggest predictor of childhood obesity around the world.”

The news release contained a disclosure: “This research was funded by The Coca-Cola Company.”

Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, said that as a business, Coke “focused on pushing a lot of calories in, but then their philanthropy is focused on the calories out part, the exercise.”

In recent years, Coke has donated money to build fitness centers in more than 100 schools across the country. It sponsors a program called “Exercise is Medicine” to encourage doctors to prescribe physical activity to patients. And when Chicago’s City Council proposed a soda tax in 2012 to help address the city’s obesity problem, Coca-Cola donated $3 million to establish fitness programs in more than 60 of the city’s community centers.

The initiative to tax soda ultimately failed.

“Reversing the obesity trend won’t happen overnight,” Coca-Cola said in an ad for its Chicago exercise initiative. “But for thousands of families in Chicago, it starts now, with the next push-up, a single situp or a jumping jack.”

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There was even a video from Coke at the end of this longer article, but I thought if you want to see it you can just go to the original address of the article (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/).

My own remarks and conclusions about the whole matter will be the topic of a new post soon!…

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. donsalmon
    Aug 14, 2015 @ 13:30:29

    HI Bhaga:

    Haven’t seen a “mundane” topic for quite awhile on your blog – love this! I just saw the opeds in the New York Times and elsewhere – not the least bit surprised to hear that Coke’s hired medical guns are lying and distorting the research.

    I’m very very curious to read your post on this. Jan and I are going to be, over the next few months, adding pages to our “healthy habits” section (which includes food, exercise, sleep, time and money).

    I don’t know how it is now in India, but in the US people continue to get more and more obsessed about food and the rest. I’ve been thinking for years that it would be great to make a distinction between “what” is best to eat and “how” to maintain balanced attitudes and habits.

    I would say close to 90% of all the nonsense I see on the net, in magazines in store racks, on television, etc makes it sound like there’s incredible controversy about nutrition and nobody knows what to eat.

    In fact, the almost universally agreed upon basics of a healthy diet today are almost exactly the same as those my mother (a dietician) wrote about back in the 70s. I’m not going to go into specifics at the moment (because no matter what you write on the net – you can say well at least we can all agree on green leafy vegetables – someone will write in about dangerous elements found in spinach or kale, or someone else will say you can only eat raw greens, and yet another will say you have to cook things or you’ll die or end up some horrible astral hell or who knows what.

    But what I will say – which I think is close to universally accepted – is the body – when we know how to listen to it, knows what it needs (if it hasn’t been corrupted by our mind and vital consciousness!). I can’t find the exact quote (it’s on our site – http://www.remember-to-breathe.org ) but they did a study and found that when the body is in tune with its needs, it will the the EXACT number of calories that is most ideal for its needs, within a tiny margin of error.

    I did just look at our food page and found this:

    **************

    According to New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, in a column entitled “Which Diet Works?”:

    “Almost every diet, from the radical no-carb-at-all notions to the tame (and sane) “Healthy Eating Plate” from Harvard, agrees on at least this notion: reduce, or even come close to eliminating, the amount of hyper-processed carbohydrates in your diet, because, quite simply, they’re bad for you. And if you look at statistics, at least a quarter of our calories come from added sugars (seven percent from beverages alone), white flour, white rice, white pasta … are you seeing a pattern here? (Oh, and white potatoes. And beer.)”

    He ends the article with the following statement by David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center of Boston Children’s Hospital:

    “It’s time to reacquaint ourselves with minimally processed carbs. If you take three servings of refined carbohydrates and substitute one of fruit, one of beans and one of nuts, you could eliminate 50 percent of diet-related disease in the United States. These relatively modest changes can provide great benefit.”

    So virtually all diets agree that decreasing or eliminating hyper-processed carbs is the way to go. In addition, they mostly all agree that adding fruits and vegetables is a good thing.

    ******

    I’m actually pleasantly surprised, not having looked at the page in some months – it’s not that bad as a basic summary: http://www.remember-to-breathe.org/Food.html

    Rudolf Ballentine, basing his work on Ayurveda, wrote a wonderful book on Food and Nutrition back in the 70s which had a section called “Food Sadhana” which basically taught how to get back in touch with the body consciousness and how to allow it to inform us intuitively what foods we need. I think not understanding this may be at the basis of many of the subtler arguments.

    For example, almost everyone agrees that a wide variety of high quality, organic vegetables is good. However, I may be in a particular condition for a few months where my body can’t tolerate greens, or at leas,t many of them. If in my mind I hold a rigid rule “I MUST have greens 2x a day” (there are a number of otherwise excellent nutritionists who insist you should have all you can eat in terms of salad greens EVERY day) well, i will probably make myself sick. Then I’ll start a webpage about how bad vegetables are and I will claim to have proved it from my own experience.

    My sense is if you give people decent guidelines (like the ones above, some basics about what to avoid at all costs, something that’s actually easier to agree on than what’s good – and even there, not making yourself crazy if you have an ice create or pizza or chocolate or whatever once in a while unless you’re actually a yogi and then you don’t need to be reading this:>))) I know that will get me in trouble since nowadays everyone who has taken a weekend workshop in mindfulness thinks they’re a yogi!) – if you give them decent building on what to avoid, and at least general guidelines – healthy fruits and veggies in moderation, nuts and seeds, etc – THEN inspire them to learn to listen to the body, they should be able to take it from there.

    Or, just draw down the supramental force and let that take care of everything. Hmmm, maybe I’ll start a new website about that and charge $5000 for people to join…..

    great blog post Bhaga, looking forward to more.

    Like

    Reply

    • Bhaga
      Aug 14, 2015 @ 16:19:40

      Aaaaah!… Finally some news about your website!!! I didn’t dare to ask when June was gone and still no news of it… But now I know, and here is a precious link to go see it… That will be tomorrow, though, for I really must go to sleep now, but I wanted at least to say hello, and thank you for the comment! More about it, and also the second one, tomorrow… A big hug for Jan!…🙂

      Like

      Reply

  2. donsalmon
    Aug 14, 2015 @ 13:33:19

    Oh, forgot to mention – the really hard thing for most people is, once having decided WHAT they want to eat, is HOW to maintain that in the midst of our crazy ,unbalanced lives. Well, that’s what our website is all about (Jan and I were just talking about putting together an online course with audios and videos and text, on developing “healthy habits” – related to this topic)

    But rather than saying more now, I’m going to get back to work on the site. Today we’re doing voiceovers for some of our videos and audios, and writing a “QUICKSTART” page with a summary of a dozen or so basic breathing, meditation, heart centering and other “techniques”.

    We are actually (FINALLY!!) optimistic that our store should be up in the next 2 months, which means we should by then also have our wordpress blog and youtube channel, which means you’ll finally get to see our videos and hear our music!

    Like

    Reply

    • Bhaga
      Sep 15, 2015 @ 13:28:59

      It has been already one month since I replied to your wonderfully long comment above, dear Don, and I haven’t been able to write again to you… simply because my quite fragile little laptop was in quite bad a shape and would function in a normal way only for a very little time, after which it would go off by itself at the most unexpected (and often the most inconvenient) moment, so I started doing only the most necessary things, like replying to the most urgent emails, and I rarely had time enough online to write any new posts for my own blog, let alone to look at your new website!!!
      Finally a few days ago the situation improved with some professional advice from one person in the team working around an Aurovilian specialist, and one of the first things I did was to rush to your site, thanks to the precious link I remembered you had included in these comments of yours here!
      So now at last I have been able to discover your magnificent brainchild! Congratulations to Jan and you for such a useful and sweetly beautiful site!🙂

      Like

      Reply

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