A new study published on Oct. 18 says that 96 national health groups accepted money in the form of sponsorships from soda giants Coca-Cola and/or PepsiCo between 2011 and 2015, despite the well-established link between sodas and obesity.
Boston University School of Medicine researchers found that some of the health organizations that took this money included the National Institutes of Health, American Red Cross, American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, notes Time.
"To see all these organizations [accepting money] is shocking and surprising," study co-author Daniel Aaron said. "I don’t think companies have a legal duty to protect people’s health, but I think these groups do."
Aaron did note that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics have ceased taking money from the soda corporations.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that of the 96 groups sponsored by Coca-Cola (99 percent) and PepsiCo (14 percent), 63 were public health groups, 19 were medical groups, seven were health foundations, five were government groups, and two were food supply organizations, reports Time.
There are other soda companies that do these types of sponsorships, but this study was limited to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and national organizations. The study did not include state-wide and city-wide sponsorships.
According to the study, Save the Children dropped its support for taxes on soda in 2010 after accepting more than $5 million from the two soda companies in 2009. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic reportedly accepted Big Soda money and did not support former New York City Michael Bloomberg’s proposed limit on soda sizes. Instead, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic pushed for nutrition education, said the study.
The researchers concluded:
There is surprisingly pervasive sponsorship of national health and medical organizations by the nation’s two largest soda companies. These companies lobbied against public health intervention in 97% of cases, calling into question a sincere commitment to improving the public’s health. By accepting funding from these companies, health organizations are inadvertently participating in their marketing plans.
"I want people to know that a lot of important health organizations shaping health in the United States are receiving money from Coca-Cola and Pepsi," Aaron told Time. "That money, while it may seem beneficent, is more geared toward marketing. I want people to understand how problematic that is. Health organizations are becoming a marketing tool."
The American Beverage Association, a trade group, issued a statement on behalf of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo:
America’s beverage companies are engaged in public health issues because we, too, want a strong, healthy America. We have a long tradition of supporting community organizations across the country. As this report points out, some of these organizations focus on strengthening public health, which we are proud to support.
We are making a difference through the voluntary actions we are taking to reduce calories and sugar from beverage consumption—and by working together as competitors. Through our efforts, we’ve engaged with prominent public health groups on how best to help people moderate their calories in what is the single-largest voluntary effort by any industry to address obesity.
Yes, we may disagree with some in the public health community on discriminatory and regressive taxes and policies on our products. But, we believe our actions in communities and the marketplace are contributing to addressing the complex challenge of obesity. We stand strongly for our need, and right, to partner with organizations that strengthen our communities.