By Nuño Dominguez
Two of the main manufacturers of sugary beverages in the world, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, financed 96 organizations in the United States that play an important role in promoting healthy habits and fighting obesity or diabetes, diseases promoted by the high consumption of sugars. The goal was to "improve" the image of soft drinks and reduce support for laws that limit their consumption, the study says. "By accepting funding from these companies, healthcare organizations are unknowingly participating in their marketing plans," the authors highlight.
The sugar industry and the major soft drink producers are in a similar situation to the tobacco companies decades ago. The world is suffering from an obesity epidemic and the consumption of sugary drinks is one of the proven culprits. Each can of conventional soda contains 40 grams of sugar, well over the 25 daily considered ideal by the World Health Organization. Given the growing consumption of these soft drinks, which reaches the limit of addiction in Mexico, some countries have created taxes against these drinks and others are considering including warning messages such as those that already appear on cigarette packages.
The industry has responded with a millionaire budget to wash its image, although the scope of these practices is much less explored than in the case of tobacco.
Major recipients of “sponsorship” funds include the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as well as the American Cancer Society. There is also the largest association of doctors in the country, the AMA, the Red Cross, and the Center for Disease Control, the main government agency in charge of protecting health and promoting healthy habits. Among the recipients are also the prestigious Harvard University, Washington University and Georgia University.
"We have focused only on organizations that operate in the US nationwide, so the number of entities that receive funds from these two companies around the world must be much higher, hundreds or even thousands," he explains. a Subject Daniel Aaron, a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health and co-author of the study. The work has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the scientific journal of the American Association for Preventive Medicine.
The investigation highlights the case of the NGO Save the Children, which supported taxes on soft drinks, but stopped doing so in 2010 after receiving more than five million dollars from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in 2009. Save the Children denies that stop pressing for taxes against sugary drinks after receiving donations from different companies, the NGO explained. The organization maintains that "it was part of a coalition that was working to request the application of this rate and abandoned it when the priority in Save the Children United States became early childhood education."
Between 2011 and 2014, Coca-Cola spent on average more than six million dollars (about five million euros) a year on these types of actions. PepsiCo spent 3 million and the Beverage Association of America 1 million, according to the study.
At the opposite pole would be the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, the Academy of Pediatrics of the United States, and other organizations, which in 2015 refused to continue receiving this type of funding from Coca-Cola. The authors of the work consider that the rest of the organizations related to the health that are in the list should do the same.
Also in Spain
The vast majority of the organizations identified in the study received money only from Coca-Cola (83 of the 96). The authors point out that it may be because this company has made public the list of aid it grants, while PepsiCo has not.
In Spain, dozens of entities, including several universities, receive money from Coca-Cola, as the company itself published this year. One of the organizations that receives the most funds, more than one million euros a year since 2011, is the European Institute of Hydration. This foundation finances scientific studies and has a multi-million dollar budget, contributed by Coca-Cola itself, according to The Times. The agency recommends the consumption of sports drinks and soft drinks such as those manufactured by the company. This institute has the University of La Laguna as one of its four co-founding organizations.
In 2013, a study led by Spanish researchers found that the vast majority of scientific studies funded by companies in the food industry, including Coca-Cola, claimed that there was insufficient evidence that sugary soft drinks cause obesity.
This type of relationship between the soft drink industry and health care organizations "is still quite unknown," says Aaron. In his opinion, "it is very important" that these activities be studied "at an international level," he highlights.
The Beverage Association of America, which represents Coca-Cola and Pepsi, issued a statement after the study was released saying, "We have a long tradition of supporting community organizations across the country." "As this study points out," they maintain, "some of these organizations are focused on improving public health, which we proudly support."
Rafael Urrialde, director of nutrition at Coca-Cola, has contacted Materia this morning to explain that the financial aid mentioned in the study is for "collaborations in scientific conferences" and that the company will continue to carry them out, and publishing a list of them as part of its transparency policy.