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Coca-Cola Was Pulling the Strings of an 'Anti-Obesity Group,' Emails Reveal

Influencing everything from logo colors to group leaders.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In its attempts to convince the public that soda is healthy, or at least not-unhealthy, Coca-Cola continues to seek new ways to game the system. This summer, the soda giant was revealed to be funding a nonprofit whose goal seemed to be to shift blame for obesity away from dietary issues and onto exercising habits. Naturally, both organizations quickly denied that Coca-Cola's "unrestricted grants" in excess of $1.5 million had any influence on Global Energy Balance Network's research.

Now, though, emails obtained by the Associated Press through a public records request show that "Coke helped pick the group's leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website." Rhona Applebaum, Coca-Cola's chief health and science officer, even gave instructions for the group's logo, proscribing the color blue typically associated with rival Pepsi. Applebaum, who has retired in the wake of the scandal, wrote in an email, "Color will not be an issue — except for blue. Hope you can understand why."

James Hill, president of the group, told the Associated Press that "the idea that it only focuses on physical activity is inaccurate," also saying that Global Energy Balance Network's "strategy benefits 'all who are concerned about obesity.'" He said the group wants to continue its work.

Coca-Cola spends an enormous amount of money attempting to demonstrate or simply suggest soda is good for consumers. Early this year the company was caught out partnering with "fitness and nutrition experts" who agreed to write about mini-cans of Coke as a "healthy treat." But between the soda tax passed in Berkeley, California last fall, the removal of sugary colas from the Wendy's kids' menu, and even the beverage companies' own pledges to cut product calories, NFL star Tom Brady seems to be tapping into the zeitgeist with his recent complaints about Coca-Cola's "quackery" and "poison for kids."

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