University Returns $1 Million Grant to Coca-Cola

"The University of Colorado School of Medicine announced Friday that it was returning a $1 million gift from Coca-Cola after it was revealed that the money had been used to establish an advocacy group that played down the link between soft drinks and obesity."

"University Returns $1 Million Grant to Coca-Cola" source

"Coca-Cola donated the money in 2014 to help establish the Global Energy Balance Network, a nonprofit group of scientists that urged people to focus more on exercise and worry less about what they eat and drink. Coke’s financial ties to the group prompted criticism that the soft drink giant was supporting scientists as a way to shape obesity research, an issue reported by The New York Times in August.

In response to the article, Coke’s chief executive, Muhtar Kent, disclosed that the company had spent almost $120 million since 2010 to pay for academic health research and for partnerships with major medical and community groups involved in curbing the obesity epidemic. Recipients included the American Academy of Pediatrics, which accepted $3 million from Coke to launch its website, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the country’s largest group of dietitians, which had received $1.7 million from Coke. After the disclosure, both groups said they were ending their relationships with Coca-Cola.

In a statement late Friday, the University of Colorado said it was returning the $1 million seed money that Coke had provided to set up the Global Energy Balance Network because “the funding source has distracted attention from its worthwhile goal.”

“Obesity and related health issues are serious concerns for personal medical care and public health,” the university said in the statement. “The School of Medicine and physicians and researchers on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are making significant contributions to the understanding of and care for these health-related issues and the source of funding for the network should not distract from their efforts.”

In a statement, Coke said it would donate the returned money to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“While the network continues to support a vigorous scientific discussion of the contributions of dietary and physical activity behaviors to the obesity epidemic, it has become evident that the original vision for G.E.B.N. has not been realized,” the company said in a statement.

James O. Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado medical school, who co-founded the Global Energy Balance Network and served as its president, declined to comment. Steven Blair, an exercise scientist at the University of South Carolina who served as the group’s vice president, could not be immediately reached for comment.

In a widely viewed video for the Global Energy Balance Network, Dr. Blair criticized “the media” for blaming the country’s high rates of obesity on fast food and sugary drinks, and said there was “virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

The group also launched a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, where it promoted exercise as a solution to chronic disease and obesity while remaining largely silent on food.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, called the network “a front group” for Coca-Cola intended to promote the message that obesity is primarily caused by a lack of exercise, not by overconsumption of junk food.

On Friday, Dr. Nestle, the author of “Soda Politics,” said she was pleased that the university had returned the money.

“Both deserve congratulations for making a difficult but necessary decision,” said Dr. Nestle. “Let’s hope other groups also decide to do the right thing and end such financial relationships.”

In August, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, circulated a letter signed by 37 scientists and public health authorities accusing the Global Energy Balance Network of “peddling scientific nonsense.” In an interview Friday, Michael F. Jacobson, the group’s executive director, praised the University of Colorado for returning the money.

“Even though the university probably returned the money out of embarrassment, it’s smart that they did it,” said Dr. Jacobson. “I hope this sets an example for other recipients of Coke money.”"

"University Returns $1 Million Grant to Coca-Cola" source