Considering sugar’s role in America’s obesity epidemic, one might assume soft drink companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo throwing funds at major health organizations would be a bad idea. Wouldn’t it be a conflict of interest? These companies make money by selling sugary sodas, and these organizations perform a public service by warning consumers of said sodas' potential dangers.
Bad news, from a couple of Boston University researchers: Coke and Pepsi sponsored 96 American health organizations between 2011 and 2015. And these aren’t groups that would be unheard of to the average U.S. citizen. They’re major names such as the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association. The Childhood Obesity and Public Health Conference and National Dental Association are included too.
"These companies lobbied against public health intervention in 97 percent of cases, calling into question a sincere commitment to improving the public’s health," reads the conclusion of the study conducted by authors Daniel G. Aaron and Michael B. Siegel. "By accepting funding from these companies, health organizations are inadvertently participating in their marketing plans."
Among the "public health interventions" Coke and Pepsi lobbied against during the four-year stretch were health warnings on ads for sugary beverages, guidelines for marketing food to children, portion size limits on sugary beverages, and a whole slew of taxes on soft drinks. All of this lobbying came while the companies were paying groups that are charged with making public health their top priority.
Last year, the Global Energy Balance Network shut down after it was discovered the somewhat obscure health organization, which claimed to be fighting obesity but found no link to sugar-packed sodas, was funded by Coca-Cola. It seems unlikely the American Heart Association, or any of the other aforementioned Coke- and Pepsi-funded groups, will be going away anytime soon.
"Such sponsorships are likely to serve marketing functions, such as to dampen health groups' support of legislation that would reduce soda consumption and improve soda companies' public image," the study reads. "It is recommended that organizations find alternative sources of revenue in order to stop indirectly and inadvertently increasing soda consumption and causing substantial harm to Americans."